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Earth

What’s not to like about WALL-E, the 2008 American computer-animated movie? A trash compactor robot, WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class) spends his days compacting trash with an eye on making the earth fit for rehabilitation. You see, centuries ago, humans polluted the earth to the point of ruin, and then evacuated in massive spaceships. There, they loll about in such ease that their limbs have atrophied, and they have become essentially helpless, though good-natured, blobs. Before they fled the planet they had ruined, they left robots to tidy up things, so they might eventually return. Only WALL-E remains on the job, for reasons I forget, and as one might imagine, he is lonely. All that changes when a pretty female robot (EVE) shows up. Sparks fly, as is to be expected with robots. The two save the planet, fight off the bad robots, and pave the way for the humans to return!

The film was an instant blockbuster. What menial job can garner more sympathy than that of saving the earth? “You leave WALL-E with a feeling of the rarest kind,” said film critic Peter Travers. It “fills you with pure exhilaration.” Saving the planet will do that. I liked the film. My wife liked it. Surely everyone must have liked it. But when she mentioned it to a co-worker, the latter lamented how sad the movie was. Sad? “What we’re doing to the earth, what we’re leaving behind for our children, is an absolute tragedy,” she said.

Well—yes, the film would have that effect on some, wouldn’t it? After all, WALL-E was a movie reminding viewers of a present that is not so rosy. “If Wall-E has anything original to say, it takes place in the first 30 minutes on a planet heaped high with junk. But the parallels between fiction and reality are almost too painful to contemplate,” writes another film critic, Dorothy Woodend.

The Bible frankly states that humans will, by their self-centered activity, threaten to “destroy the earth.” Believers can take comfort that the same verse says God will destroy them before they can complete their task, but if you didn’t know that, it would be disheartening indeed.1

Is it beneficial for the earth short-term for people to know that? Or does it make them complacent? Why worry about the earth since God will eventually clean it up? Witnesses have had people accuse them of holding just that attitude. “This [JW belief that God’s kingdom only can permanently solve earth’s environmental woes] leads to the undeniable fact that Witnesses take almost no initiative towards making the world we live in a better place in any way,” someone grumbled online.

Well—not to oversimplify, but if the entire population were Witnesses, there would be no need for efforts to make the world we live in better in the first place. This is because of the traits which are instilled into each Witness. They are law-abiding to the core, honest, industrious, not abusing government services, nor contributing to the criminal element operating with little hindrance in many lands. They are promoting stable, monogamous families—all of this by virtue of making the Bible their guide to life.

And to think that this writer was upbraided a few years ago, along with all his people, for not picking up the roadside trash. “Enough Jehovah’s Witness preaching, already!” scolded an interlocutor, “what good is that? Do something useful, instead,” said he, and then carried on about how he and his entire family took part in a local park clean-up, picking up rubbish that other slobs had tossed here, there, and everywhere. Look, no one is against cleanup days—they are undeniably a good thing—but how silly to imagine that, by thus taking part, we’re saving the planet, when, in one dastardly swoop, some industrial blunder will undo the efforts of countless picker-uppers.

Just about the time of this exchange online, there was such a blunder. BP lost a rig in the Gulf of Mexico and 3-4 million gallons of oil poured out over 87 days: the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. “How to clean up the mess? And who’s at blame!” cried Time Magazine’s cover of June 21, 2010, against a backdrop of oil-soaked pelicans. The magazine listed a “dirty dozen,” which included the prior president and his Secretary of State, a former oilman, but also the current president and some of his underlings. There were also a handful of other tycoons, needless to say, and one or two indulgent regulators. Even the ubiquitous American driver was on the list, since he fuels demand for oil in the first place. Got it? We’re all to blame. There are no good guys in white hats, only bad guys in black, oily ones. President Obama declared that he was looking for “asses to kick,” even while hinting that his own posterior might be among them.

Reports had it that local picker-uppers were showing up on the coast only to be told to get lost, since this was a job for pros! BP and others floated salvage ships to corral surface oil and burn it. Dire predictions were of massive environmental collapse from the oil that escaped and lined the shore. It didn’t happen. Not to say that there might not be long term consequences, but, by and large, the earth is pretty good at healing itself. It really is true that the U.S. media ignores even qualified good news, preferring to focus on overwhelming devastation itself, along with who is to blame, and delighting in the President’s then-combative ass-kicking tone.

No, I won’t stand for it: to be told preaching is valueless and community cleanup days are the path to salvation. And do not mistake that statement as unconcern for the environment. When our kids were small and we hiked the trails at Allegheny State Park, we would take trash bags with us and make a treasure hunt out of it, collecting beer and pop cans along the way. Some had been there for years. There were even some of the ancient tin types, cans that had been opened, not with pop-tops, but with can openers such as I remember from when I was a kid—extra points were awarded for such finds! And heaven help you if you are the pig dumping fast food trash out the car window and Mrs. Harley is driving behind you! She all but rams your bumper and slaps you in handcuffs, hauling you off to the sheriff under citizens’ arrest.

One fellow with an Internet connection gripes about Jehovah’s Witnesses: “They don’t even need to recycle if they don’t want to.” What kind of an accusation is that? Are there groups that maintain their people must recycle, whether they want to or not? Where recycling is the law of the community, Witness compliance is higher than most, no doubt, since they are well-known to be law-abiding. Where it is not the law of the land, likely Witness compliance is still higher than most, out of respect for the planet.

Sometimes financially secure, trendy neighborhoods take up recycling as their special cause. When that happens, they may outdo the average Witness. But Witnesses surely shine when compared to the population in general. When I attended a wine festival, each vendor offered samples of wine, cheese, candy, sauce, whatever, in single-use plastic cups, plates, or skewering toothpicks. Were they recycled? I don’t think so; all trash was mixed together. In the medical field, everything is single-use only, disposable, in the interests of sanitation. Nothing is washed. Nothing is reused. When I once worked part-time for a retail inventory firm, reputed to be the country’s largest consumer of AAA batteries, I asked whether they were recycled. They laughed at me. Into the trash those batteries went, each and every last one of them.

We are all for local clean-up-the-park days. Same with clean-up-the-roadside days. None of Jehovah’s Witnesses will ever speak against such things, unless you count observations that such are, at best, a stop-gap measure, and that the lasting solution will come only when God carries out his promise to “destroy those destroying the earth.” Witnesses tend to use their free time to highlight this latter solution, the one that, in the end, is the one that counts. My experience is that it is only the tiniest sliver of the population who take part in such cleanups, anyway—it is not as though Jehovah’s Witnesses are thwarting the entire effort. And surely it must count for something that Witnesses aren’t among those who caused the mess in the first place.

There is a hazardous waste recycling center nearby, a joint effort by the county and Waste Management. It is regularly trafficked by environmentally conscious persons who are not too weighed down by the cares of life, but it serves a 30-mile radius. What percentage of the population actually travels 30 miles to use it? Into the common landfills most stuff goes, which is admittedly an improvement over simply dumping garbage out in the back woods back in the day.

 

Having said all this, in Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses clean up the parks. If they were to do it here, it would prove the very opposite of the Russian government’s claim, for the United States Witnesses would not have told Russian Witnesses what to do, but Russian Witnesses would have told the American ones what to do. “In Russia, congregations do it all the time,” Chivchalov says. “Most congregations do it. It has become a custom for them. Parks are more or less okay, other people clean them too, but still there is garbage to clean, and sometimes the authorities just lack enough workers, so there may be tons of garbage at times. We clean not only parks, but any public areas. We usually ask the city administration to assign some areas for us to clean.”

It’s not a bad marriage, is it? The ones who hope to live forever on a paradise earth volunteer to clean it up now. The earth is not a cheap hotel room that is not up to your standards but since you are staying only a few days you can overlook it. No. It is our permanent home. Witnesses are not one of those religions that are ‘just passing through’—a few decades on the planet, then off to heavenly realms. Clean up those parks!

Might this even present opportunities to speak of God’s future promises regarding the planet? I’d be surprised if it didn’t. Whereas there are some denominations that teach God will one day destroy the earth with fire, what an ideal venue is a congregation park cleanup to explain that he won’t. What a perfect setting in which to tell the illustration Witnesses love to tell: ‘If you have built a house and rented it out to tenants who have destroyed it, you don’t burn down the house. You evict the tenants and find better ones.”

Extrapolating from too little data, Chivchalov says, with regard to park cleanups, that ‘other people clean them too.’ If they ever do it here, they certainly do not do it so commonly that one could say ‘other people clean them too.’ Does Russia clean up the planet more than does America, while polluting it less? You could certainly make the case that Russia has saved the planet a time or two. Or three. There are that many examples of when a Russian has literally saved the planet from nuclear ruin. I can think of no such examples in the West.

In 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, in charge of the command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system, saw that five missiles had been launched by the United States. The eyes of all his subordinates were upon him. Had he passed the information along to his superiors, it would have triggered an immediate Soviet counterstrike. He judged it was a malfunction and told underlings to forget about it. Of course, investigation later confirmed that he had been correct. Stanislav died during 2017, to relatively scant notice.2 He is one of the Ecclesiastes “princes who went on foot like slaves, while slaves rode on horseback.”3

Another was Vasili Arkhipov. He was the sole one of three senior officers on the nuclear-missile equipped submarine B-59 who refused to authorize their use—authorization had to be unanimous—during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Thomas Blanton, then director of the U.S. National Security Archives, credited him with ‘saving the world.’4 Third was Nikita Khrushchev, mentioned in the Statecraft chapter, sending the telegram that arguably defused the Cuban tension and ended the crisis.

 

Nuclear attack was a very real fear in the years following World War II. I used to crouch under my school desk, as mentioned in chapter 6, with hands clasped behind neck, until my classmates and I grew too big for such ‘protection, at which point we filed into the hallway and leaned against our lockers. Nor was it only the United States who had to be wary of the Russians. Russians had good reasons to be wary of the U.S. Intoxicated by the decisive end to the second world war brought about by Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, American General MacArthur sought to use up to 50 of the new devices just five years later along the Chinese and Russian border, to close out the Korean War, in a strike that would have made doings in Japan look like a schoolyard brawl. However, President Truman wouldn’t let him do it.5

Nuclear annihilation fired the popular imagination during the 1950s and 1960s. Remember how Ray Bradbury’s character in The Martian Chronicles trains his telescope on earth just in time to see its final mushroom cloud? And who can forget Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes encountering the half-buried Statue of Liberty, suddenly realizing just what planet he is on, and screaming: “They blew it up! Damn them! Damn them to hell!” Not to mention the Twilight Zone episode in which that hen-pecked fellow goes into the bank vault to read, only to have the world end while he is so occupied. Far from being put out, he is delighted, since he can now read free from the eternal nagging of his boss and wife. Unfortunately, he breaks his glasses. Thus far, none of those disasters have come about. Up till now, there is always someone to, just in the nick of time, hold the earth together, but it’s one heck of a way to run a planet. Didn’t they just reset the Doomsday Clock at two minutes before midnight? Many think that threat is now greater than ever, since there are more nuclear powers, and they are more unstable.

When I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 1970s and came across that scripture telling how God would “destroy those destroying the earth,” I read it in terms of nuclear destruction. It was really the only means of destroying the earth that anyone could envision back then. Yes, some areas were polluted then, but nobody saw such things as a threat to the entire earth. These days an endless list leaps to mind—most are some variant of man-made pollution. Taking first place has to be global warming, but through the years we’ve also learned to fret about global dimming, species eradication, air and water pollution, acid rain, deforestation, contamination of the food supply, and so forth. Wasn’t there just some study detailing how pharmaceuticals have found their way into the water supply? In minute concentrations, of course, yet over time, and given the fact that such chemicals are specifically designed to interact with living tissue, isn’t it another “destroying the earth” scenario?

The Bible uses the term ‘earth’ in yet another way. It doesn’t always refer to the physical planet. It can refer to the society living upon it. If we broaden our definition of earth in this way, we, as a consequence, add new social ways in which humans destroy the earth. In fact, when God spells out a reason for bringing the flood of Noah’s time, he declared that the earth was corrupted, not by air pollution or global warming, but by human violence.6 Surely violence corrupts the earth today. Imagine hatred so intense that people delight to die if only they can take a dozen or so with them! Ever more graphic violence is a staple of television entertainment. In the wake of a school shooting, the president gathered video game makers to say that their products are too violent, and they should tone it down. The media promptly trotted out experts bristling with degrees to ‘correct him.’ Yes, it does make a certain intuitive sense, they conceded, but science shows that violent games provide a harmless substitute for the real thing and true violence actually decreases when people play all the games they want.7 Will they dare say it with regard to child porn?

New ways of destruction continue to surface, even as the older ones continue to simmer. Putin has declared whoever controls artificial intelligence (AI) controls the world.8 Others say no one will control AI; in time it will control us, and will perhaps squash us one fine day, without malice, when it perceives we have somehow gotten in its way. Predictably, AI is instantly adapted to porn. Supplementing online porn and virtual-reality porn, AI-enhanced porn produces a product so enticing that it is feared people will neglect the real thing. Will God be thwarted? Will the irresistible force of sexual attraction, the key to preservation of the species, becomes a ‘been there, done that’ thing?

Such things are not unexpected to the student of the Bible and are just part of the accumulating ‘sign’ that human rulership is unfit, and that God is fully justified in bringing its end, to be replaced with his own kingdom rule. Only then will the earth ever be free of threats to its existence.

Still, even with that knowledge, trialsome conditions are trialsome conditions. Jehovah’s people may see light at the end of the tunnel, but it is a tunnel nonetheless. Sometimes people give up on the light and instead focus on the tunnel. Some simply worry about it, and some try to patch it up. It is easy to wobble in faith. If Paul could speak of those who had experienced “shipwreck of their faith” in his day, much more do his words apply in our day as the whole earth wobbles insanely and all feel its effects. Doubtless that is why the Witness organization lays so much stress on ‘staples’ such as meetings, public ministry, and Bible study: staples that Russia seeks to deprive them of. These are the avenues—really, the only avenues—through which Christians can focus on the big picture of God’s deliverance.

 

Danish citizen and Russian resident Dennis Christensen was picking up the public park, just like WALL-E, until the Ministry of Justice decided he was a dangerous criminal that should be jailed. Dennis is the same fellow who built a playground for the children. How extremist does that sound? His congregation has a nice certificate from the mayor. Maybe it is even mounted somewhere: “In gratitude for a good deed—garbage collection for the benefit of people and nature.” Christensen’s role himself was to stand in foot-deep Orlik River water to fish out bags of trash. It’s his last act before losing his freedom. Someone later snapped a picture of the 23-person delegation standing behind bags upon bags of the rubbish they had collected, as though fishermen holding aloft the big ones that did not get away.9 The congregation tells of a city representative sympathetic to Jehovah’s Witnesses, in the midst of their persecution, who wished them not to lose the ‘power of the spirit.’

Is there anything less radical that cleaning up the park? Does ISIS do it? If they do, most would hesitate to stroll through the area afterwards for fear of booby traps. How better to expose the nonsense of an ‘extremist’ label than to continue cleanups of public places? Will policemen follow along and monitor Witnesses to make sure they don’t witness to anyone? If they do, they may find themselves having to clean up the parks themselves: on the taxpayer’s dime, no less, and not for free as the Witnesses do.

 

After hurricane, flood, or earthquake, an entire city becomes a park to clean up. It is here that the Witness organization excels, having developed “the disaster response volunteer service to a fine art.” Their art is simple, yet unreachable for many. People’s love for one another must be strong enough that it does not snap under adversity. There must be sufficient organization. It cannot be watered down by everyone wanting to be the chief. One weak link hampers all. Several weak links all but destroy it. Jehovah’s Witnesses are well known to have that love for one another and, as a byproduct, they are able to effectively organize without fuss in times of natural disaster.

Even the prompt Witness response to such disaster is spun as a negative by apostates. Why do the Witnesses just help themselves, they will say, with only the spillover benefiting the greater community? Why do not they help everyone without preference? The answer is that Witness workers are volunteers taking time off from work. A project can only be as large as there are volunteers available. The solution is for all other groups to organize themselves as Witnesses do for disaster relief. Helping one another promptly and effectively should not be unattainable rocket science. Others who rise to the occasion will thereby become so busy that they will have no time to complain that the doers are doing it wrong. People without Bible education tend not to get along. They supply unexpected friction at the very moment lubricant is needed. The Watchtower organization has no idea how to organize them. They will have to organize themselves.

Consistent with cleaning up the parks is building facilities that ‘understand’ the earth: that sway when it sways, that breathes when it breathes, and that has the most minimal impact upon the environment possible. Watchtower branch headquarters, 70 kilometers outside of London, completed in 2017, was certified ‘Outstanding’ by a leading sustainability authority for green construction methods.10 This is similar to the ‘Four Green Globes’ rating given the new worldwide headquarters in Warwick NY by an American agency.11 The branch facility in Haiti sustained but minor damage in a 2010 earthquake that flattened Port-au-Prince; it had been built quake resistant.

In Gardiner, New York, Witnesses restored, repaired and painted that community’s 143-year-old town hall. “They did amazing work,” the town supervisor exclaimed at the next town-board meeting. They even combed through the archive photographs to repaint the trim a more historically authentic forest green.12 In Warwick, New York, they provided labor to repair the dam whose failure would have destroyed 200 residences downstream.13 In Patterson, New York, they landscaped the town’s firehouse and even bought them a new firetruck when told it lacked a vehicle that could service the five-story buildings Witnesses were constructing.14

Before realizing it was later to call anything Witness-related extremist, the editorial board of the journal World of Design in 2015 heaped praise upon the Witness’ branch headquarters in St Petersburg and its purpose.15 “The hall…is intended only for one main purpose—a thorough study of the Bible. Worship of God occurs both individually and with a large crowd of people, this is the basis of the tradition of thousands of biblical seminars.”

World of Design even noted its commitment to equality, a Russian ideal. “The principles of equal opportunities are promulgated for all who came here—if something is given here, then equally and of the same quality, this refers to lighting, location, acoustic level and air ventilation. The center provides comfortable conditions for all visitors, without fail on equal terms.”

The journal noted not a hint of catering to the luxurious; all was purely practical. “In this strictly functional building there are no exquisite ornaments. Nowhere is there any sense of luxury—such are the principles universally accepted in places of worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses as early as the beginning of the 20th century.”

As to the building itself, it “impressively combined with light, sometimes striped volumes, giving a harmonious look of the building. As the architects assumed, the building became an adornment of the city. Simultaneously attractive and elegant, it turned into some kind of architectural dominant of this area.”

Russian authorities liked it so much that they took it! Did the government recognize these unique attributes as they confiscated the center, built almost exclusively by Witness volunteers? A group of Finnish investors, fretting over an investment climate they judged negative in Russia, called the confiscation of private property “a very bad signal for the market.”16 At any rate, it certainly gives new meaning to a passage in Ezekiel:

“You will say, ‘I will invade a land of open villages and attack a peaceful people who live in security—all of them living without city walls, bars, or gates’ in order to plunder and pillage, turning your hand against resettled ruins, against a people gathered from the nations, a people whose concern is cattle and goods, dwelling at the center of the earth.”17

From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia.   (see also safe version)

Endnotes

  1. Revelation 11:18
  2. Simon Shuster, “Stanislav Petrov, the Russian Officer Who Averted a Nuclear War, Feared History Repeating Itself, Time, September 19, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, http://time.com/4947879/stanislav-petrov-russia-nuclear-war-obituary/
  3. Ecclesiastes 10:7
  4. Nicola Davis, “Soviet Submarine Officer Who Averted Nuclear War Honoured with Prize,” October 27, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/oct/27/vasili-arkhipov-soviet-submarine-captain-who-averted-nuclear-war-awarded-future-of-life-prize
  5. “Texts of Accounts by Lucas and Considine on Interviews With MacArthur in 1954,” New York Times, April 9, 1964, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/1964/04/09/texts-of-accounts-by-lucas-and-considine-on-interviews-with-macarthur-in-1954.html
  6. Genesis 6:11
  7. Seth Schiesel, “The Real Problem With Video Games,” The New York Times, March 13, 2018, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/13/opinion/video-games-toxic-violence.html
  8. David Meyer, “Vladimir Putin Says Whoever Leads in Artificial Intelligence Will Rule the World” Fortune, September 4, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, http://fortune.com/2017/09/04/ai-artificial-intelligence-putin-rule-world
  9. “Dennis Kristensen, Who Languished in Jail, and His Co-Religionists Received Gratitude From Local Authorities,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, June 14, 2017, accessed March 24, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/news/17061415-180.html
  10. Media release: “Witnesses’ New Branch Office in Britain Receives Top BREEAM Rating for Sustainable Design,” JW.org, September 5, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.jw.org/en/news/releases/by-region/united-kingdom/branch-office-breeam-rating-sustainable-design/
  11. Media release: “Witnesses Receive Highest Rating by GBI for Sustainable Design of New World Headquarters,” JW.org, February 14, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.jw.org/en/news/releases/by-region/united-states/gbi-awards-four-green-globes-sustainable-design/
  12. Frances Marion Platt, “Gardiner Town Hall Spruced Up by Watchtower Volunteers,” hudsonvalleyone.com, August 19, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://hudsonvalleyone.com/2017/08/19/gardiner-town-hall-spruced-up-by-watchtower-volunteers
  13. Media release: “Witnesses Repair 60-Year-Old Dam in Warwick,” JW.org, November 1, 2016, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.jw.org/en/news/releases/by-region/united-states/witnesses-repair-60-year-old-dam-warwick/
  14. Mary McAleer Vizard, “In the Region: Putnam County; Watchtower Project Grows in Patterson,” New York Times, April 18, 1993, accessed March 28, 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/1993/04/18/realestate/in-the-region-putnam-county-watchtower-project-grows-in-patterson.html
  15. “The Congress Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg. Overview,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, July 15, 2015, accessed March 28, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/news/15071514-77.html
  16. Svetlana Mihaylova, “Do You Want to Attract Finnish Business, Improve Investment Climate,” fontanka.ru, November 1, 2016, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.fontanka.ru/2017/12/16/038/
  17. Ezekiel 38:11-12

000

 

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Stephen Fry Runs Afoul of the Blasphemy Law

In 2015, the Irish comedian Stephen Fry abruptly became quite serious on TV. He charged: “Why should I respect a mean-spirited, capricious, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain?” His words did not sit well with a certain person who reported him to the police. Fry discovered that he had run afoul of a blasphemy law that he had not even known existed. It was as though he was an extremist himself, nabbed for embarrassing the church people. The Irish Defamation Act would penalize any person who publishes or utters blasphemous material, and Fry was therefore investigated.12

What would Fry say to God face-to-face if he had the chance? a show host asked him on television. He answered: “I’d say ‘Bone cancer in children, what’s that about?’ How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil … Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.”

Perhaps the Russian Orthodox Church can answer his complaint. Jehovah’s Witnesses can in a heartbeat. It is even a chapter of their basic study book, What Can the Bible Teach Us, entitled Why So Much Suffering? an exploration of verses that effectively reason upon and answer the question. Through their unparalleled public ministry, Jehovah’s Witnesses make every effort to answer Fry’s grievance using the Bible, for surely it has that answer. Dominant churches jealous of their own turf try to run the Witnesses off the road so that they can answer it their way: with defamation laws when ‘God works in mysterious ways’ fails to satisfy. It is well that Russian tort lawyers, if they exist, do not understand scripture, for surely it is religious malpractice to interfere with the quest for the answers as to why there is suffering.

Nonetheless, the learned men have not figured it out, is the gist of ‘Octavius’, so what chance is there that an idiot will? ‘You see,’ Caecilius explains from the 2nd century, but he might just as well be speaking today, “all things in human affairs are doubtful, uncertain, and unsettled.” So it is to be understood that if “some, from the weariness of thoroughly investigating truth, should rashly succumb to any sort of opinion rather than persevere in exploring it with persistent diligence.” He represents those who have done “persistent diligence.” His uneducated Christian opponents do not.13 He later speaks with admiration of a certain philosopher who, “the longer his research continued, the obscurer the truth became to him.” That being so, “in my opinion also, things which are uncertain ought to be left as they are. Nor, while so many and so great men are deliberating, should we rashly and boldly give an opinion in another direction, lest either a childish superstition should be introduced.”14

The reason the great men cannot figure it out is that their wisdom has led them to make a priori assumptions that serve to screen out the true answer when it is presented to them. The ones unindoctrinated need not grapple with these red herrings—frequently they are unaware of them. It really is true that the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s eyes and that he therefore simply ignores it, giving very clear answers only to whomever is willing to extricate themselves from that quagmire.15

This explains why Witnesses of Jehovah can barely contain themselves. Fry cries out the question of the ages. There is scarcely a question more important. The great men have either argued in circles or given up. Yet his question should be answered. Jehovah’s Witnesses have really put themselves out—they have fairly turned their lives upside down—to bring that answer to him, only to be blocked by ‘respectable’ religion. It is not a matter of snatching away church members; let them claim him if they can answer his question. Unfortunately, they cannot, and they will not. They have boxed themselves in with pre-existing notions and unreasonable doctrines. So they don’t try. They take cover instead behind defamation laws. Indeed, several of their doctrines would negate the answer to Fry’s question, though biblically the answer be plain as day.

For example, it is common, upon the death of a young child, for a member of the clergy to explain it with the analogy of how God is picking flowers. It goes something like this: God has a garden; he grows pretty flowers, absolutely the best. But he needs one more. There’s one spot that’s just not right. Ah! The missing ingredient is your sole flower. He’ll pick it. Surely, you’ll be happy. What’s that? You’re not? Who would ever think such an analogy as ‘picking flowers’ would be comforting? It is monstrous. No wonder people go atheist. Take away the most precious thing a person has simply because you have an opening and expect him to be comforted over that?

The ‘picking flowers’ illustration is nowhere found in the Bible. But, just once, the Bible uses an illustration parallel in all respects except the moral, which isexactly opposite from the flower illustration! It takes place after King David, captivated over Uriah’s wife, takes her as his own, impregnates her, and silences her husband by having him killed. The passage reads:

“The LORD sent Nathan to David, and when he came to him, he said: “Tell me how you judge this case: In a certain town there were two men, one rich, the other poor. The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers. But the poor man had nothing at all except one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He nourished her, and she grew up with him and his children. Of what little he had she ate; from his own cup she drank; in his bosom she slept; she was like a daughter to him. Now, a visitor came to the rich man, but he spared his own flocks and herds to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him: he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David grew very angry with that man and said to Nathan: “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves death! He shall make fourfold restitution for the lamb because he has done this and was unsparing. Then Nathan said to David: ‘You are the man!’”16

Now, this analogy is just! The man is not expected to be comforted that the king stole his lamb to impress his visitor. Anyone who’s ever recoiled in disgust at the ‘picking flowers’ analogy is reacting exactly as the Bible says he should! It is the clergyman who is advocating the obscene. The flower picker is not to be praised. He deserves death! Having followed the prophet Nathan’s logic, the atheists take the moral high road in this instance and kill God! The condemnation of religion at Revelation 18:24: “In her was found the blood of…all the ones who have been slaughtered on the earth,” is not due to her war-stoking record alone. It is not just due to her acts of commission; it is also due to her acts of omission. Such teachers swap Bible truth for junk food, and spiritually starved people forage on evolution and atheism for nourishment.

Since the illustration is slanderous toward God and not found in the Bible, why do so many clergy members use it? The answer is that they have bought into unscriptural and unreasonable doctrines that unfailingly paint them into moral corners. You make a god-awful mess trying to escape from these corners. The unscriptural doctrine here is: ‘When we die we don’t really die.’ That is, there is some component of us, usually called the soul, that lives on. It is immortal. Have you been good? Then death is your friend. You get promoted to heaven, and how can anyone not be happy to see good people promoted? It’s a win-win! The trouble is, people don’t behave as though it’s a win-win. People mourn at funerals, they don’t rejoice. They take a long time to readjust. Some never readjust to the death of their child; children are not supposed to die before the parent. Death is not natural. It is not a friend, as most religions would have us believe. It is an enemy.17

Returning to Fry’s complaint, note who takes the hit for religious negligence. It is God! Fry rails against God, not clergy persons and not religion! He should rail against the latter, for it is they that fail in their job to explain God. It should not be God who takes the hit. Fry simply assumes—what reasonable person would not?—that if there is an answer to a spiritual question, the self-proclaimed experts will have it. That they do not must mean that an answer does not exist. It does not occur to him that the experts are themselves misled, or in some cases even frauds. God’s reputation suffers. Even beyond addressing Fry’s righteous gripe, Jehovah’s Witnesses ardently want to defend God; after all, that is the function of a witness: to defend one who is accused.

It is a stretch, but perhaps Fry will one day come across Jehovah’s Witnesses and be puzzled at finding that they are in Russia a ‘totalitarian sect.’ It is too bad for him that they are so maligned. So fundamental are his questions of God and suffering that even if the repugnant word ‘totalitarian’ was true, he might decide to rethink his objection to it, for it is not as though anyone else in the field of religion has offered anything to satisfy his spiritual thirst. Slandering good people with charges of totalitarianism does not always work. Sometimes the contrast between the accusations and what people can see right before their eyes is too great, and people are drawn to what they might not otherwise have noticed. For some the best motivation to do something is to be told that they cannot. Might Fry be one of those people?

His words were reported to the police by “a member of the public, who asked not to be identified,” and who later explained that he (this is too much—it really is) “had not personally been offended by Fry’s comments—I added that I simply believed that the comments made by Fry were criminal blasphemy and that I was doing my civic duty by reporting a crime.” If the incident mirrors the incidents of many countries, the “member of the public” was an infuriated clergyman, maybe even Dvorkin himself, who was personally offended and therefore tried to arrest the one who had insulted him and his profession. In the end, whoever it was did not succeed. Fry was not charged. It was decided to let the law slide because “no one was hurt.”

Sure, go ahead and slap down Fry, if you must. But also address his complaint. Had his complaint even once been addressed, he might not have launched his TV salvo to begin with. Few pay any attention to the Bible’s explanation of suffering because it is Jehovah’s Witnesses that offer it. As with most things, it is not what is said that is important. It is who says it. People look to a respectable source to answer such questions, for surely answers should come from someone trained in academia, they assume. “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the open squares she raises her voice,” says the proverb. ‘Nonsense!’ the world’s movers and shakers respond. ‘It cries aloud in the university campuses and quadrangles. Only ignoramuses are found on the street.’18

How a religion can be considered a respectable source while coming up empty-handed on the fundamental questions of life is a question for others to ponder. But popular religion will ever be a reflection of what people honor most, and such fundamental questions, while they may appear on the list of concerns, do not rank as highly as does fitting in with the world’s overall aims and thereby enjoying respectability.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, who, at significant expense and inconvenience, have put themselves out to answer questions like Fry’s, should not be impeded. Let’s face it—one builds up some ‘street cred’ through such an unpaid public ministry. There is nothing in it for them. Sure, it can be spun in a derisive manner by persons intent on that aim: that they have a ‘need’ to validate themselves or a ‘need’ to be right. But it is better to take it at face value: as doing a good deed. Witnesses understand kingdom preaching as a Christian duty dictated by love of God, for he is the one who gets slammed—and for neighbor, for they are the ones who suffer for it. If you have knowledge, you don’t just sit on it. How loving would that be? You light the lamp and put it on a lampstand.

From the ebook Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia

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You Don’t Enter Stage From Behind the Quarter Walls

They have quarter walls on the platform of the new Kingdom Hall I visited. Most taking the platform would walk up from the side, disappear behind one end of the wall and then reappear from the other end to take the speaker position. I only saw one person do it differently.

It is just a small thing. Hardly worth mentioning. Petty, anyone? I ought to rise about the temptation to say anything. But.....on the other hand........

IT DROVE ME NUTS! Why would anyone do it that way?

I know how this happens. Someone starting doing it thinking it looked more “dignified.” Others thought it was a cool idea, and followed suit. That is how these things work. There is never a ‘rule’ though occasionally there is an unwritten rule which you cope with by just ignoring it.

The way you stop this nonsense is by deliberately flying in the face of it. Structures vary, but usually there is but a single step from the auditorium to the platform—it runs the width of the platform—and you mount that step any old place that you happen to be—let the stuffy other brothers think that you are barbaric if they must. What is more likely to happen is that they will come to think the other way is a little silly.

They see it done that way at the Assembly Hall and they try to carry over the experience to the Kingdom Hall. At the Assembly Hall, that seats 1000, well—of course! Just like in any auditorium, you have to enter through a door in the back and then come on stage behind a curtain or a half wall. You can’t just take stage directly from the auditorium because you would have to clamber up a 2 or 3 foot wall, and that would look ridiculous.

Entering from behind the short walls at the Kingdom Hall makes just the opposite impression. The walls are convenient places to store junk behind, most likely—unused mike stands and the like. It’s not for a pretentious means for entry when you can just walk up easy as pie from where ever you are!

“Sure,” says my wife. “You always know just the way it should be. Everyone is doing it wrong. Only Tom knows the way to do it!”

Finally, that woman is catching on! DO IT RIGHT, BROTHERS!

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“Egypt Anyone? Let’s Stuff This Religious Gig and Go Back!”

It seems incredible that Israelites delivered from bondage in Egypt would petition to go back just a few weeks later. Doesn’t it? We’ve all seen the movie. Moses raises him arm, the Red Sea parts, the Israelites cross, the Egyptian army follows, and the Sea closes in on them and drowns them all.

A few weeks later they thought it was all a mistake. They wanted to go back. Would anyone believe it without seeing it in black and white? No. Therefore, here it is:

“And all the sons of Israel began to murmur against Moses and Aaron, and all the assembly began to say against them: “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness!  And why is Jehovah bringing us to this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder. Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?” They even went to saying to one another: “Let us appoint a head, and let us return to Egypt!” (Numbers 14:2-4)

It wasn’t the cakewalk they thought it would be. If God got them out of a jam once, surely it couldn’t happen again. The food had been good. “How we remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers and the watermelons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic!” (Numbers 11:5) True, the slavery sucked, but life wandering about in hopes of a promised lands wasn’t glamorous at all.

It is all a matter of delayed gratification. If you weren’t able to do that, and grumbled about manna— it was fairly versatile stuff, but there are limits—being not cucumbers and watermelons and leeks and onions and garlic, then you started to pine away for the old life. Apparently slavery wasn’t all that tortuous; if you faithfully made your quota of bricks, the taskmaster left you in peace and fed you good when feeding time came.

The reasons not to go back to Egypt? They were all of a spiritual nature. Wanting to worship their God unhindered had triggered the Ten Plague showdown in the first place. To Pharaoh is was: “This is what Jehovah the God of the Hebrews has said: “Send my people away that they may serve me.” (Exodus 9:13) And the “promised land” where they would also worship their God unhindered was but a promise that one had to have faith it would come about.

In short, the reasons to turn back were physical. The reasons to press on were spiritual. It is no different today. If the Reddit characters that the Philly reporter wrote about—the dropouts who carried on about “the absurdities of their experiences” to a reporter who lapped it all up—it could be argued that they remained too shallow for too long to appreciate what was worthwhile.

Wanting to go back to Egypt, my foot! To maneuver to maybe become the bossman’s head lackey? Don’t tell me that in any way compares to the real life that one must, to be sure, exercise faith in and master the art of delayed gratification.

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One of the Foremost Conclusions of Critical Thinking Ought Be That We are Not Very Good at It

Anyone suspecting that ‘cognitive dissonance’ is a far overrated evil need look no further than American pharmaceutical ads—with narrator saying you must have the stuff and voiceover saying that it may kill you. Those adsters seem to handle their ‘cognitive dissonance’ pretty well, don’t they?

It is a concept worthy of a pamphlet, maybe, but little more. We cannot entertain two non-dovetailing ideas simultaneously without our heads imploding? Intelligent people have always done it. Moreover, the insistence that people cannot do it without incurring massive cognitive dissonance is the perfect example of Romans 1:22: “Though asserting they were wise, they became foolish.” And “I will make the wisdom of the wise men perish, and the intelligence of the intellectuals I will reject.” (1 Corinthians 1:19)

The whole concept of “critical thinking” is skewed and pompous. Everything is to be looked at critically. Nothing is to be accepted as true until each and every component is proven, and one wobbly point negates the whole. People thinking this way far overestimate their ability to “prove” things and end up doing only what humans are most good at—tearing things down and replacing them with nothing.

There was once a time when it was thought intelligent to supply context and to seek to put things into perspective. Today if you do that you are told that you are “raising a straw man argument.” The best way to counter this is to invent a character—Bernard Strawman—who regards himself as the epitome of reason. Mr. Strawman appears in both Tom Irregardless and Me and No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash.

“Cognitive dissonance” a problem? Humility is the deciding factor. The one with humility tells himself that the facts are not all in yet, indeed they may never be, and he will be able to juggle non-dovetailing ideas proportionately until he sees how they resolve, which may or may not occur within his lifetime. That way he is not blindsided by the recurring headline: “Everything you thought you knew about such and such is wrong!” One mustn’t get too carried away with one’s own investigative ability.

One of the foremost conclusions of critical thinking ought to be that we are not very good at it.

 

 

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The Avatars of Second Life - Also First and Third

I came across a person through reading who spent all his time playing Second Life. It is a popular online game in which a player, represented by an avatar, interacts with other players who are represented by their avatars. There are hundreds of thousands of players of this game, and together they make up an online world, which they may occupy more than the real world. You can do everything in Second Life that you can in the real world, and a lot more, since you are unrestrained by inconveniences as family responsibilities, financial hardship, health or age infirmities, physical distance, or social inhibition. It is a dinosaur of a game in digital life—its heyday is past—but it is still played by many.

The man featured in the article I read was almost sixty years old. He discovered Second Life while recuperating from surgery. He plays it virtually every waking moment—as many as fourteen hours a day, said the article—pausing only for bathroom breaks. His avatar is a twenty-something muscular hunk, a vicarious representation of his actual sixty-year-old self. He develops shopping malls and creates designer clothes (in real life, the sixty-year-old works at a help desk). He is idolized by all his employees and when he logs on after a long absence, his workers all welcome him back and earnestly inquire as to his health. (I haven’t yet figured out why anyone would play Second Life and be an employee rather than a boss.) He has an online wife, a pretty avatar he met some time ago. They set up house, they work together, shop together, and do everything a married couple might be expected to do. In real life, he’s never met the woman and has no intention of doing so. In Second Life, they are inseparable.

Now, this fellow has a wife in the real world, and she’s not happy. “Leave this loser,” her kids urge her. It is the second marriage for both of them. But she sticks with her man, if he can really be called hers. He is a good man at heart, she maintains, who has been sucked into an online addiction. Someday he will wake to find he has squandered his whole life in a make-believe world. She brings him breakfast while he’s tapping away at the keyboard. Hours later she returns. “You didn’t touch your breakfast,” she says. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t notice it.” (This writer’s wife would dump his breakfast over his head at this point.)

Imagine—an online world so engrossing that some prefer it to the real world! Next to Second Life, Risk and Monopoly are mere—well, board games. Yet without too great a leap in creative thinking, one may view this life as though it were a second life, which would relegate the online Second Life to Third Life. For the Bible makes clear that this life is not the “true” life. Sickness and death are not part of God’s purpose for humankind. Rather, everlasting life is. An earth brought close to ruin by human activity is likewise not his purpose; a paradise earth, much like the Eden of Genesis, which literally means ‘garden,’ or ‘paradise,’ is. Neither is happiness marred by evil and suffering part of God’s purpose, but instead unsullied life under Kingdom rule is. We limp along as best we can in this system of things. Some find success and overcome obstacles better than others, but in the end, there is little difference between us. A mere few decades pass and all of us are senile and in diapers, en route to the grave. That is why Paul encouraged Timothy to: “Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.”

How meaningful can life be in a system where ISIS, dementia, cancer, or simple human greed can snuff it out in a second? “Sayonara!” your longtime employer sings out, as he packs up for overseas. “Dust off that resume, why don’t you?  And those family and financial obligations you have? Fugedaboudit!” It is as Solomon says: he has seen footmen on horses and princes slogging through the mud. It is certainly possible to get satisfaction from life today, and most have to some degree. But many find it is like chomping down hard on cotton candy. Though it looked substantial, they ultimately find that there was never much there.

How short-sighted to throw off restraint and run to a place where no one can tell you what to do. There is nothing to stop one from doing so, but it’s a poor trade-off over the ‘restrictions’ of a godly life, which amount to little more than guardrails on a treacherous highway. Manipulation through human scheming in the form of Big Government, Big Business or contemporary philosophy ultimately take a toll far greater than any restrictions of the Christian life.

There is some basis in viewing this life, uncertain in every aspect except its ultimate end, as a Second Life, and your real self as an avatar. And perhaps some advantage. The joys of this life one can experience fully, if the character of our article is any guide. But the hardships that this life throws at you, things not within your power to fix, you may be better able to handle with an “aw hell, it’s just an avatar” attitude, which will be good for mental health. Like any board game or online game, this life comes to an end. You may have hotels on every square or you may go directly to jail—‘Do not pass Go’—but the game does end decisively for all. The true life, however, does not. Jehovah’s Witnesses live as happily as they can manage in this life. But it is the true life to which they look forward.

From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia

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Built on the Backs of Slaves

A bit south on Meeting Street in Charleston, we came across the Nathanial Russell home. It was a National Historic Registry Site and there were tours advertised, so I was fooled—I should have known better—into thinking National Historic Park rangers would be acting as guides, just like they did at the Taft home and the Van Buren home. I didn’t know who Russell, but I figured he probably had something to do with the founding of the country, in this historic part of South Carolina. My bad. He wasn’t a founding father at all. He was an enormously successful merchant, one of the upper echelon of wealthy merchants, the guide deferentially told us, as we toured the restored Federalist style house.

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He made his fortune irrespective to who ruled the colonies. He made it prior to the formation of the United States, and a portrait of him in a first floor room has him looking decidedly British. He did nothing but add to his fortune after the founding of the United States, and a portrait of him hanging upstairs, (the portrait, not the man) painted twenty years later, has him looking decidedly American. He was one of the most prosperous merchants of his time—anywhere.

It took a while to realize just what he was a merchant in. It wasn’t that it was hidden. The guide plainly stated more than once that the man’s stupendous 6500 square feet house “was built on the backs of slaves.” It is not the house’s fault that it was built that way, and it’s the house, not the man behind it, that accounts for its being on the historic landmark registry list, with Landmark Society volunteers and not National Historic Park rangers conducting the tours.

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How much does the person taint the building? In time, he turned his attention to gobbling up real estate and increasing his wealth thereby. So he never actually did anything noble in making his fortune, though he did in the distribution of it. Allowing that he was a “complex” man, “multi-faceted,”—were those her exact words or did she use synonyms?—the guide went so far as to call him a “feminist” because he agreed to a pre-nup with his second wife, unusual for the time, and giving her sole control of her portion of the prize. It was not a marriage of love, the guide pointed out, and she indisputably is remembered for philanthropy though the nature of that philanthropy was not specified and I didn’t think to ask.

“There’s no nice way to spin” his history, the guide stated, even as she gushed over his influence and power, the magnificence of his home, and there was a point at which I wished she had observed that the man is now just as dead as his slaves. (To my surprise, I discovered, via poster in the museum part of the house, that the slave trade to the southern states was but a small part of the whole.)

I distrust this oohing and ahhing over social prominence, and there is a part of me that invokes, admittedly on too little evidence, Jesus observation about the Pharisees, who loudly decried how they never would have acted as wickedly as their forefathers. ‘You would have done worse,’ he told them.

(Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you build the graves of the prophets and decorate the memorial tombs of the righteous ones, and you say, ‘If we were in the days of our forefathers, we would not be sharers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ Therefore you are bearing witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Well, then, fill up the measure of your forefathers. - Matthew 23:29-32)

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it,” said Upton Sinclair. Russell probably never did understand it. The civic leaders of his Rhode Island and Charleston residencies didn’t understand it—he built much of the latter town—and do they understand it even now? Few are the written references to just what sort of a merchant he was, and the ones that exist are but footnotes. Others, however, uprooted from their homeland and separated from their loved ones, understood it quite well.

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Brainwashing

“Jehovah’s Witnesses members are dangerous because they approach people in the street and offer them their literature, introduce themselves as a Christian organization, while their activities are based on manipulating consciousness, and they erode the psyche of people and the family,” Russian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk explained.1

Witnesses wouldn’t be dangerous to anyone had the dominant church not been asleep at the switch. Surely the solution for anyone dangerously offering Bible-based literature is to train people to spot what is wrong with it. If they did their jobs, they wouldn’t have to worry about cults. People would see through cults in a heartbeat.

Witnesses hold that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”2 All the Church must do to withstand unjust assault is to make its own people familiar with the book. Why have they not? They have had the time and resources. The Witness model could not be simpler: acquaint persons with the Word so that they can be guided by it—God’s wisdom as opposed to human wisdom. Many people like that model.

Faith is not so important to most people in an overwhelmingly secular age. They keep religion in its place—typically last place. With Witnesses it is unapologetically in first place. That is apparently how Jesus ‘the Extremist’ would have it. “Do not think I came to bring peace to the earth,” he says. “I came to bring, not peace, but a sword.”3 Any faith incapable of evoking division is not the faith Jesus is describing. Though overall a godsend, there will be some component of it analogous to waving a red flag before a bull.

Politics is what is important to most people, even if not to Jehovah’s Witnesses. It can and does provoke disruption in many a family. The capacity to provoke disruption is a measure of a object’s importance. Jesus voluntarily pursued a course that led to his execution. Did he consider his faith important or something that should be kept in its place?

Early Christians knew that their gospel would not be welcomed. They knew they would be vehemently denounced, even by family. “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends; some of you they will have put to death; and everyone will hate you because of me,” said Jesus. They were not to become unduly concerned about this. “So make up your minds not to worry, rehearsing your defense beforehand; for I myself will give you an eloquence and a wisdom that no adversary will be able to resist or refute,” their Lord said. “By standing firm you will save your lives.”4

Jehovah’s Witnesses are maligned in the Russian press. For example, a 2400-word article in the General Newspaper of Moscow salivates at the prospect of seizing Witness property throughout the country and mocks their appeal to international law in an effort to prevent that from happening. Witnesses are low beings who “wet in the toilet,” would “clog your brains,” do “dark things through Jehovah,” and as to your money, they would have you “give the last.” 5 A follow-up article from SOVA Center reported the Witnesses’ consternation at this article, with the words: “In the opinion of believers, this ‘material is capable of arousing hostility on the basis of attitudes toward religion and lead to a stream of violations of the rights of innocent people.’”6 Do you think?

Those who know some Witnesses personally may think it odd that people who are so nice individually can be so dangerous collectively. The ones they know personally are fine people, but somehow, when you put them all together, they become evil. It doesn’t quite make sense that it should be that way, but there are other things to think about. Doesn’t the Orthodox Church say bad things about them? It is enough for most people, who like the Church because it typifies Russia.

 

The Huffington Post criticized the April 20th Court decision. But then it walked its criticism back. If a faith claims to be the one true faith it will sooner or later turn violent, the Post said. At first it may content itself with soft violence, that is, seeking by law to force its views upon others. Should that fail, it will look to hard violence. The writer then cites historical examples of that happening, in most cases skipping the soft violence altogether and going directly to the hard. He then proceeds to base his entire article on the one example, almost the only one he could have chosen, which disproves his point.

“In America, most of us think of Jehovah’s Witnesses as that occasional Saturday nuisance,” the article begins. “They interrupt our morning breakfast or afternoon chores to tell us their version of the Christian faith. They cheerfully drag their families along for quiet strolls through the neighborhoods and pass out Watchtower Magazines for us to throw away later. Annoying? Yes. Disruptive? Usually. But extremist? That depends,” the writer says.7

Should we not agree that if a religion participates in violence, it is extremist, and if it does not, it is not? Is the Post not attempting to erase the distinction between virtual extremism and actual extremism? The article uses Jehovah’s Witnesses, unfailingly non-violent, to launch into a discussion of religions that are violent, yet somehow manages to insinuate that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the worst of the lot. ISIS spills blood today, but it is hardly unique, says the Post. “From the Spanish inquisition to the convert-or-die tactics used on Native American Indians, Christianity has been used to commit horrific acts of violence throughout the centuries. Judaism, from which Christianity arose, recorded shocking details in the Torah of the slaughter of entire populations, including women, children, and animals.”

It is too stupid to be countenanced. Surely, Jehovah’s Witnesses will one day turn violent, the writer hints, even though Witnesses have supplied a 140-year track record that they will not. Their non-participation in both hard violence and the softer political kind is common knowledge. With anyone else the writer might have a point. Few factions will not resort to violence when they deem the cause right. Yet, the first group to be branded extremist in Russia is the one group that categorically rejects violence in all circumstances and has proven it since its inception.

Actions are not the sticking point with the Huffington Post writer, despite professions to the contrary. It is words that he has a problem with—the words that are Jehovah’s Witnesses’ only weapon. “Sticks and stones will break my bones, and words are even worse”—he doesn’t say it, but the implication could not be more clear. His is an attempt to muzzle words that would violate his world view.

Nor is the Huffington Post writer worried about the future, issuing his dark warnings about coming violence from the one group that has never offered any. It is concerned with the here-and-now. The Huffington Post is a humanist champion with little use for religion. A religion that actually heeds Jesus’ words to ‘put down the sword’ is not welcome news to them, for it argues against their premise that the worship of God is a relic of the past that humanity does well to outgrow. Humans have the answers, it urges. We must all get on board and pull together. Do not rain on the parade by asserting, as Witnesses do, that human efforts are doomed to fail; surely it is extremist to say such a thing even if nobody picks up a gun. The ‘good news’ that the Witnesses tell is fake news to the writer, and he does not want it to be told.

Most likely the Post writer realizes that associating Witnesses with physical violence is nonsense, for after he implies guilt by association, he moves on. He uses the complaint as a bridge to another complaint he hopes will find better reception—the supposed threat that Witnesses pose to the LGBT community. This is also nonsense, but it is an easier sell. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not allow the homosexual lifestyle within their ranks, and these days that is enough to be considered hostile to those not within their ranks. They would disagree. Can it really be hostile to keep one’s own standards within one’s own house? Jehovah’s Witnesses do not judge the people. The causes of homosexuality are by no means clear. “Teen Hormones [are] Being Altered by Gender-Bending Chemicals,” says the Sun and goes on to relate how an ingredient employed in the manufacture of plastic mimics estrogen, and has been found in the bodies of 80 to 90% of teenagers.8—yet another scenario arises to explain sexual fluidity. Who can say? Jehovah’s Witnesses are constrained by Scripture from allowing homosexual acts within the congregation, but they do not stir up hostility toward them in the outside world, or lobby for laws to that effect—something many a church does do.

The Satanic church of Moscow is also not concerned about deeds. They are concerned about words. They are less hypocritical than the Huffington Post in that they say it outright. “The Jehovah’s Witnesses had an extreme approach. We oppose indoctrination and religious propaganda,” said the church spokesperson Oleg Sataninsky [his real name not given], as reported in Newsweek. His church is “flourishing” and it was pleased with the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses—even ‘cheering’ it.9 That there should even be a Satanist church is not thought extremist today in Russia or most other places in the world. However, a religion that categorically shuns violence is.

His own group is misunderstood, Sataninsky protests. They are not devil worshippers there, he says, nor do they go in for the dark rituals of movie lore. They have nothing to do with the red-suited figure with horns and pitchfork, or to the extent they do, it is merely to tweak the religionists. Instead, they elevate human reason as the foremost star and celebrate its accomplishments.

They thereby identify with the actual Devil more so than do the storybook depictions of him in the church. The veneration of human reason exactly reflects Satan. It has been the issue from the beginning Genesis account: Satan urging the first human couple to disobey God and thus be ‘like him, knowing good and bad.’10 They are urged to set their own standards of right and wrong—who needs God, anyway? He is just a tyrant set on stifling human accomplishment, charged the Devil way back them, as he charges today. In the elevation of human reason, the Satanist Church is not unlike the Huffington Post. Jehovah’s Witnesses represent the polar opposite of both, as they recommend God’s teaching as the highest source of wisdom. Most of the greater religious world straddles the fence, here stressing things spiritual, there bending to the latest innovation of human reason, and thereby incurring the wrath of the Post and the Satanists to a lesser degree than does the Watchtower organization.

It is not deeds opponents fear. It is words. “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth,” says Jesus.11 It will not, says the Russian government, the Orthodox Church, the Huffington Post, the Satanic Church, and a host of other opposers. The specific words these various groups are concerned with may differ, but it is always words, and not deeds, that upset them. The problem with words is that they can be strung together in many different ways—and not just the ways these ones prefer. What will be the result of words when strung together as these opposers would string them? Jesus answers: “In fact the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God.”12

 

A month after the Court decision, Alexander Dvorkin, the anti-cult expert, crowed about the outcome he helped mastermind. At last the parent organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses would be shut down so as “to protect the civil rights of the members of this organization.” He was “absolutely convinced that after a few years, the number of members of the organization will decrease dramatically, two or three times, because, when one cuts off its financial foundation, its ability to freely, without hindrance, recruit other people, to rent large halls and so on, then, in fact, people will lose interest and will very quickly disperse and, in this sense, this decision is very correct and far-sighted.”13 In other words, when you cut off someone’s limbs, they can be expected to die. He champions his role as protector of the individual Witness by severing ties to their organization.

Their fate serves them right, he says, because “Jehovah’s Witnesses do not recognize the foundations of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation, forbidding its followers to bear arms and participate in elections.” And “by the way, as far as I know, [reports are] sent to the headquarters of the organization in the United States.” In fact, Jehovah’s Witness do report to their congregation the amount of time engaged in the ministry, and the aggregate number is sent to headquarters for worldwide compilation and the better coordination of ministry resources. Some grumblers allege that Witnesses thereby care more about hours than people. It is a cheap shot. The hours are people, to whose spiritual needs Witnesses are devoted.

Individual Witnesses spread their message “by deception,” Dvorkin says, and thereby those they speak to are “deprived of basic human rights.” He spreads his version of the gospel outside the country, too: “Many times I have faced and tried to speak with different so-called human rights organizations, which, again, are sponsored mostly from abroad, that there is a specific case of people who are affected by sects … there is actually a struggle for human rights [that] is replaced by the struggle for the rights of organizations that violate the human rights,” he says. Note how he disparages various human-rights organizations which are ‘abroad’ as ‘so-called’ because they do not acquiesce to his point of view. The European Court of Human Rights does not agree with him? That is because it is a ‘so-called’ human rights organization.

What he is saying is that members of Jehovah’s Witnesses are being manipulated by an overpowering organization. He dislikes organizations that coordinate and magnify words he opposes, but he cannot attack Witnesses individually without appearing intolerant, so he attacks their organization. He has no problem with other organizations, such as his Church, or even the government itself. But Witnesses should not be organized, especially from outside the country. He is saying that Witnesses are being brainwashed to do all they do. It is an old accusation, just worded a bit differently. Dvorkin is playing the role religionists have played before he was born, using state apparatus to squash enemies, doing so under a guise of People’s Protector. Always religion pursues the same path: wrestle a majority and then kill off the competition. It happens everywhere—with politics, with science, with religion, and with philosophical outlook. Often the stated goal is to protect people, as it is with Dvorkin. Even the drug lord says his competition sells bad stuff.

By liquidating the Witnesses’ branch organization, he thinks he puts an end to this threat to Witnesses’ civil rights. What he is saying is that, when faced with persecution, Witnesses will fold. He is the actor taking the place of the Jewish leaders of early Christian times—so excited to have struck a lethal blow against the religious upstart, and so persuaded that will be the end of it.

The historical record reads: “On that day, there broke out a severe persecution of the church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles…Saul, [the Apostle Paul pre-conversion] meanwhile, was trying to destroy the church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment…Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”14 Dispersion of Christians didn’t work back then. Nonetheless, the sufferings of those in the first century were substantial, and there are reports of the same in 21st century Russia. “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? I am prepared not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus,” said Paul regarding tests he knew he would face.15 One can find one’s heart broken. Witnesses around the world all ask themselves whether they, should their turn come, will be as courageous as their Russian brothers are called upon to be in facing this latest machination of the Devil.  

On June 10, 2010, the European Court of Human Rights, adjudicating legal mischief stirred up in Moscow several years prior, found no evidence to support the accusation that Jehovah’s Witnesses use “mind control.” “The Court finds it remarkable that the [Russian] courts did not cite the name of a single individual whose right to freedom of conscience had allegedly been violated by means of those techniques,” it said.16 However, the Russian Supreme Court was not chastened by this rebuke and saw no need to cite a name for the April 20th trial, either. They did, however, find every need to not hear representatives of foreign embassies who might, for all they knew, have sided with the European Court.

 

It is the pearl of great value that Jehovah’s Witnesses speak of. They spot its worth immediately. Jesus states: “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” Most people today would consider this merchant a fanatic. Jesus indicated his was the example to follow. Will Russian Witnesses relinquish it because Dvorkin twists their arm? It is a battle for hearts that is waged, not a battle of might. The heart will recognize the pearl of high price and will do anything to lay and keep hold of it.  Unless God puts his finger on the scale, hurtling anyone on the other side into oblivion, Witnesses will always lose the battle of might. But they will not lose the battle of hearts, any more than Christians lost it in the days of Acts.17

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come,” Jesus says. ‘It will not be preached!’ says Mr. Dvorkin, in effect. “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope,”18 Paul writes. ‘Let them be unaware!’ Mr Dvorkin responds. ‘Maybe the house Church will explain it someday.’ “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement,” again writes Paul.19 ‘If you kids don’t stop whining about ‘encouragement’ back there, we’ll give you something you’ll wish you were ‘encouraged’ about!’ yells Dvorkin. But, as anyone who has ever driven a car with kids in the back seat knows, they will not be so easily dissuaded. The mountain vista on their assembled puzzle is too persuasive for them to be turned aside by any anti-sectarian.

Having inculpated the Russian Orthodox Church, let us walk back on it, as though we were the Huffington Post itself. The ban of the Witness organization is a gift for the Church, and some clergy squeal with delight as they open it, as though kids on Christmas morning. But they did not originate the gift. It does not come from the world of religion. It comes from the irreligious world of the anti-cultists of France, and it is imported into Russia via the emissary Dvorkin, as Joshua Gill points out in chapter 3. It is like another Russian import of 100 years ago: Marxism, exported to the country by outside powers in hopes of neutralizing the country’s might in the face of World War I.20

Is Russia to be forever abused by outside factions pursuing their outside concerns? Once it was Marxist ideology injected into the country from Germany. Later it was the anti-cult crusade from France. More recently it is denunciations from the United States for meddling in its election via social media. Ironically, had all Americans been Jehovah’s Witnesses, the nefarious scheme would have come to naught, for Witnesses have been trained to be leery of social media on the basis that it teems with liars. An engaging whiteboard video entitled ‘Be Social Network Smart’ is directed to teens, the most vulnerable population, on JW Broadcasting, and recommends that they ‘friend’ online only those they personally know. Even adults who do not follow the same counsel are nonetheless put on notice that one does not believe everything read in social media, despite my annoyance in chapter 2 that some seem to. And as to the charge of Russian meddling—has the U.S. ever meddled in a foreign election? ‘Yeah, we do it all the time,’ is the gist of the former C.I.A. chief’s comments, and he feels it is not at all the same since it is done in the interests of its brand of government: democracy. Essentially, it is ‘We are the good guys.’21 Just once I would like to hear of a conflict in which one side or the other says “We are the bad guys.”

The ban has its immediate root in the ‘Yarovaya’ law, discussed in Introduction of this book. It has its roots in Article 29 of the post-Soviet Russian constitution, that decrees freedom of religion, but also stipulates it is not permissible to promote the superiority of any one of them.22 It is all a product of irreligion, that begrudgingly allows religion to exist, but only in a watered-down state where it doesn’t count. No wonder the Satanist church applauds it to high heaven.       

The true thinkers of the Russian Orthodox Church do not welcome the ban. “Even among Orthodox officials it’s not easy to find supporters of the draconian verdict against the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” the Christian Science Monitor says. “It is the first major post-Soviet instance in which Russia has moved to outlaw an entire religion, deploying “extremism” laws against a group that poses no threat whatsoever of violence, racism, or hate speech,” it says, highlighting Jehovah’s Witnesses’ pacifism. Vsevolod Chaplin, a former spokesman for the Orthodox Church, notes that banning Witnesses did not work even in Stalinist times, and adds: “We should be wiser in this case.” He doesn’t like Article 29. He does not approve of muzzling religious speech as do the Satanists. Chaplin feels that his Church is the superior faith—it is not all Ladas versus Kias to him. “If the state forbids us from saying that [our religion is superior], it will put itself at odds with the majority of its citizens,” he says, since most Russians identify with the Church, even if relatively few are actively involved.23

Andrei Kuraev, a professor at the Orthodox Church’s Spiritual Academy in Moscow, mentioned in the Introduction, agrees. He picks up on the “totalitarian” label of the anti-cultists, but the term is not his: “Sure, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are far from blameless. They are a totalitarian sect who control their adherents and spread bad information about other faiths,” he says. “But sometimes our Orthodox preachers do the very same things. I have personally taken part in debates with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I believe that’s how things should be handled. We should have equal conditions. The state should stay out of it and not under any circumstances try to play the role of arbiter.”24

Can totalitarianism truly fit hand in glove with pacifism? Plainly, something doesn’t fit. Since it is not pacifism—few things are as clear as Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘pacifism’—it must be totalitarianism. The description of ‘totalitarian’ comes from those who insist religion should be kept in its place as an accessory to a person’s life, but not life itself. It comes from the world of irreligion. The Church may benefit being freed from the “aggressive missionary activity” of the competition, but it too is leery of being shunted aside as a non-factor. The more spiritual persons among them do not agree that choice of faith should be comparable to one’s choice of automobile make, generating a mild debate as to which is better, perhaps, but in the end, who cares? since any car will get you into heaven.

Emily Baran wrote the book on the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Soviet Russia, as discussed in this book’s first chapter. Unsurprisingly she has much to say about present developments. The “idea of Jehovah’s Witnesses posing any serious threat to national security [is] absurd,” she writes in the Moscow Times.25 She is joined in that description by Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch. It is the 2002 anti-extremism law that is absurd in its scope, Denber asserts, more so than the Court decision that logically stems from it. The law effectively “prohibits any group, except the Orthodox Church and a few other traditions, from claiming the true path to salvation. The Witnesses do claim it, she says, “but not in a way that should land them on the same list of outlaws that includes al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.”26

Are Witnesses totalitarian? Do they control people? It is nonsense. College is more ‘controlling’ than anything Witnesses devise, as discussed in chapter 7. Unlike the Witness experience, college overwhelms and replaces former associates from Day One—gone completely is the stabilizing influence of family, community groups, and long-held friends. Enemies dislike the conclusions that Jehovah’s Witnesses have come to. They mask it with concern about their ‘controlling methods’—methods that are significantly less controlling than that of the greater world’s system of education. “Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart,” says the Letter to the Hebrews.27 The Witness opponent’s response amounts to: “If it penetrates more than butter, it is too sharp.”

“Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance,” says playwright David Mamet. The old were once young and they searched for answers. They found none on most meaningful things, and they gave up. American flower children of the 60s grew into adults more shallow than their parents, ever seeking and never finding, because they dared not search too far off the beaten path. Young people ever insist that they now see the light previously hidden. It is not that way. They have but identified some of the problems, especially the ones that afflict them personally. Identifying the answer is another thing entirely. Their parents eventually gave up. Some want their youngsters to give up, too, and settle for a life practical and comfortable. It is risky to so shunt aside spiritual things. For want of spiritual grounding, people fare poorly. Suicide even becomes the rage among the young. Friends and family express shock. Tragically, the vanilla values they hoped their young would embrace did nothing to prepare them for the assault of life, much more intense than back ‘in the day.’

Witnesses have built up street credibility. They do the work. They log the time. The fair-minded person hears them out on that account alone. Don’t spin stories about their pathetic ‘need’ to ‘save’ people. Their course is no more than putting the lamp on the lampstand by people who know light when they see it and know that one can function better with it than without it.28 Grumblers try to malign the work. It is only because someone is ‘making Witnesses do it,’ they say. If they say it to me, I invite them to look around and identify that person.

Chalk it up to the Greek word most commonly used in Scripture to convey love: ‘agape.’ There are four words used in the New Testament that are translated ‘love,’ but far-and-away the most frequent is agape. It is a principled type of love that attaches itself to an object and does not let go until its purpose is realized. It explains how, with regard to some, love can precede like. Usually the best course is not to correct, but to concede. It is a little absurd that a ‘loving’ stranger should appear out of thin air and profess a desire to teach the Bible. Admit it and move on. It is part of the theatrical performance Christians provide for the world in a play that is alternately noble and ridiculous.

Not only should speaking with Jehovah’s Witnesses be permitted, one might say (though no one does) that it should be a requirement. Jehovah’s Witnesses offer a safe setting in which one can talk about matters that are off the grid of daily life: matters not mundane, matters spiritual. Witnesses are not out to defraud anyone. They are not out for any sordid purpose. If you tell them ‘no,’ they go away. It is a parent’s worst fear that his or her youngster may be drawn into something radical, something that purports to offer answers to questions that they, the parents, have not figured out and have come to expect no more, even supposing it dangerous to pursue such answers. Deep down, they have learned to give up on discerning deep matters of life such as ‘Why is there suffering?’ ‘What is the overall purpose of life?’ ‘What happens at death?’ they have largely given up on discerning the nature of God, or even if there is a God, yet they are unsure that their offspring will also give up, as they must if they are to carve a traditional career in this system of things. The greater world distrusts those becoming too serious about the Bible, for fear the ones so affected may run a bit crazy, forgetting completely the goals that have been laid out for them. The fear is that they may develop other goals, goals leading off the charted path. What if they even carry on as did Jesus, getting himself killed over religion? Keep religion in its place. Ban those who do not.

Jehovah’s Witnesses offer a safe setting to explore unconventional ideas with regular people. The worst you can do is to get stuck with somebody awkward or boorish. This can happen despite training not to be that way, for Jehovah’s Witnesses are just regular people. But even at their ‘worst,’ they want nothing from anyone. They are not recruiting. Sometimes, when I am speaking with someone hung up over such things, I will say: “If it helps, let us both agree that there is no way on God’s green earth that you are going to become a Witness. You know it. I know it. So you needn’t worry about me maneuvering to that end.” Yes, I would like to see it. But it is so extraordinarily improbable with any given person—it would take up to a year of discussion were one to join up—that no Witness seriously entertains that prospect in their ordinary contacts. One cannot participate in a Bible discussion without knowing something of the Bible, and usually Witness visits are made solely with that immediate goal.

One can get stuck with a pest. But one will never get stuck with a menace. At worst it will be someone overeager for a cause and imperceptive. The news is good news, not bad news, and so the temptation is to over-present. Even so, it will be good training for a child on how to deal with the tangle that is humanity today. It represents ‘training wheels’ for later in life when one will run across scoundrels who are up to no good and one may not know just how to deal with them. Having briefly conversed with an adolescent who turned out to be the only person at home, I took my leave and headed down the drive. The mother pulled up in her car. I told her I had asked a brief question to her child and he had answered intelligently. “You should be proud of him,” I said. Sit in with your children on such a discussion, just like the producers of mature movies will advise (in an attempt to double their audience).

 

A new stage of hardball was reached when the Russian Supreme Court added the involvement of children in sects or extremist organizations to the list off offenses for which parental rights might be terminated.29 Only two groups of children were identified for State-imposed resocializing: children of ISIS members and “tens of thousands of children and adolescents” in families of Jehovah’s Witnesses.30 There have been no reports of it happening as of March of 2018, but it is a new tool in the toolbox. The proposal does not cause public outrage, but rather enjoys wide popular support. A survey by the All-Russian Center for Study of Public Opinion showed a 79% approval rate.31

Is it a bad thing for parents to teach their children? Should children take their parental training to heart, is it a bad thing to let them follow through on it? It is spun that way in an increasingly irreligious world. Yet, it is not true that if you withhold teaching your child, he will grow up free and unencumbered and, when of age, choose for himself values among life’s rich cornucopia of ideas. No. All it means is that someone else will teach him. There are many who would claim the role. Surely the educational system will. Even the Boy Scouts, founded in 1908 in Great Britain by a lieutenant general of the British army, serves to acclimatize children to the notion of patriotic service in uniform and advancement through the ranks, as though in preparation for the military.32

Among the philosophical underpinnings of compulsory public education in the Western world is that it is well if children are separated early from the possible pernicious influence of the parents so as to be molded by greater society.33 Thus, schooling cannot wait until adolescence; it must start early. To this day, compulsory school advocates carry on about the imperative of socialization, which they maintain is only to be found in schools. Observing the actions of many youths today, it ought to be clear that socialization doesn’t necessarily tip the balance favorably, but the paradigm is adhered to nonetheless.

When Witness parents are progressive, as all are exhorted to be, they will incorporate into their child’s training the family resources found abundantly in Watchtower publications. They will thereby produce emotionally secure offspring. Ideally these will stand up to the current flood of propaganda that labels Christianity passé or even undesirable. It is no more than Parental Glory Award recipient Novik quoting the proverb that gives proof God authorizes and expects parents to provide such training: “Teach the boy on the right path; he will not shy away from it, even when he grows old.” Even should children reassess later in life and indeed shy away, they yet have a secure foundation to build upon. At the very least, with a Witness upbringing, they will be comfortable speaking before an audience, a prospect that terrifies many an adult, but which the majority of Witnesses can do without fuss.

We are, to a great degree, who we associate with. It is intellectually flattering to think otherwise. It is also nonsense. That is why we acquiesce so quickly to style changes and say of yesterday’s cars: ‘We used to be happy driving those toasters?’ We run with the herd not just on small things like styles, but on all things. Always there are those eager to insert themselves up front so as to direct the herd this way or that. In almost all cases, nobody cares more about the child than does the parent. That does not necessarily mean they are right on all things, but it does mean that their concerns should never be blown off as nothing.

Witness children who embrace their moral training may decide to dedicate their lives to God and symbolize it in baptism even at an age as young as ten. Their parents and the Witness organization itself have been criticized for it. Is it a fine idea to allow Witness children to be baptized so young? It clearly is for those who will remain. Having made a commitment, they strive to live up to it, as would be the case for any cause anywhere. Some reassess later in life, however, and family rifts may thereby develop, for the Christian world and the overall world are like diametrically opposed political parties, and diametrically opposed political parties have been known to divide families.

If only one could tell in advance who was who. If only one could tell in advance who would stay and who would one day depart. You could then tell the latter to hold off from dedication without hamstringing the former. When someone invents such a predictor, please let me know. Meanwhile, if you find something good, it is never considered wrong to dedicate yourself to it at a young age. Successful business people and even entertainers do that, to say nothing of athletes. I’ve never heard one of them criticized for it. Usually they are lauded for reaching out in quest of their dreams.

During our family’s homeschooling days, a local couple was fined for violation of the child labor laws. They owned a small deli. It was nothing for their children to take turns at the cash register when they returned from school, and one was doing so the day that Child Protective Services appeared. Sharing in the function of the family business is not exactly reaching for dreams, but it clearly is a part of growing up and learning to handle responsibility. Homeschool pioneer John Holt opined that (not regarding this case, but he had many others) this was the very reason children become delinquent. They are shut out of the adult world under the guise of protecting them.

Should a baptized Witness child later leave the faith, he or she generally finds that most Witnesses lose interest in associating with them. As in most things, people seek out common interests. Look at how many families have been divided over Trump/Hillary in the United States. Does one really think that when Kathy Griffin holds aloft the mock, bloodied head of the President,34 her Republican dad (if he is) says “That’s my lass! She speaks her mind! It won’t affect Thanksgiving dinner, though.”?

So one who leaves the faith usually finds they lose all their Witness friends, and even family, though not in so formal a way. It becomes formal, however, when they leave with a splash—either a determination to practice what is wrong within the congregation or a public denouncement of it. Both courses are likely to trigger disassociation and shunning. One must concede that if someone was baptized young and later left on bad terms and finds himself or herself shunned by family because of it, that is not a good place to be. Who cannot empathize with that? Having said that, it is entirely possible for a person baptized young who later decides to leave to do so without triggering shunning. Fade. Drift away. Or just tell a few that you don’t want to do it anymore. There are some anti-Witness factions that encourage such ones to go out with a bang and tell them all off at the Kingdom Hall! By following their advice, one virtually assures the outcome that they will be shunned. Few governments will smilingly watch their citizens declare them illegitimate, and it is no different in Jehovah’s nation. One wonders why any outfit—often atheists do this—would recommend such a confrontation, knowing the disruption it will bring on a family.

To serve God faithfully in treacherous times takes a toll. It did before. It does today. People are not stone. They are flesh and blood. Sometimes they complain. Baruch did. After taking flak from opponents, serving alongside Jeremiah for decades, he complained mightily. God readjusted him in the 45th chapter of the Book of Jeremiah: “You said, ‘Woe is me! the LORD has added grief to my pain. I have worn myself out with groaning; rest eludes me.’ You must say this to him: Thus says the LORD: ‘What I have built, I am tearing down; what I have planted, I am uprooting: all this land. And you, do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them! I am bringing evil on all flesh—oracle of the LORD —but I will grant you your life as spoils of war, wherever you may go.’”35

His timing was off, that’s all. He wanted ‘great things?’ Nothing wrong with that. Who doesn’t want them? But he had forgotten where he was in the stream of time. God was to be ‘bringing evil on all flesh.’ If he didn’t bolt, he would be granted his ‘life as spoils of war, wherever you may go.’ One is again reminded of the NPR story ‘Lack Of Education Leads To Lost Dreams And Low Income For Many Jehovah’s Witnesses.’ Where does one look for fulfillment of dreams? Not all dreams occur at the opportune time.

Does one believe it or not—that one is in the final days of this world, however long those days may continue? It is not a question without consequence. Witnesses are serious about their faith. They look beyond this system of things to the new one promised. They make changes in their present life on that account. But if anyone reverses this hope, and decides this world is the one to watch, then their entire life as a Baruch at Jeremiah’s side becomes pointless. Some have decided just that, and they have become disgruntled over the time lost. Some accuse former friends of brainwashing or manipulation: a course which is far easier than admitting that one made a decision that didn’t work out.

That Baruch made the right decision for his time becomes apparent in the very next chapter of Jeremiah. The calamity that the oracle spoke of takes place. Of Babylon, God says: “You are my hammer, a weapon for war; with you I shatter nations, with you I destroy kingdoms. With you I shatter horse and rider, with you I shatter chariot and driver. With you I shatter man and woman, with you I shatter old and young, with you I shatter the young man and young woman. With you I shatter shepherd and flock, with you I shatter farmer and team, with you I shatter governors and officers.”36 Baruch was probably glad he got on the right side of that one. Whatever inconveniences he had put himself to, which were considerable, probably seemed worthwhile. There comes a time when God has had it up to here. Through Ezekiel, he says “I have heard all the insults you spoke against the mountains of Israel…You boasted against me with your mouths and used insolent words against me. I heard everything!”37 It is good to go back into your archives and strike out all your insolent words when he starts to carry on like that.

“Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me,” writes Paul to Timothy.38 It is a verse not meaningful to those whose religion differs little from the present world. They may think they will go to heaven when they die, they may think that God is a Trinity, they may pursue one or two hot-button topics, such as abortion or opposition to, they may advocate for this or that political candidate, but in all major respects, their goals are that of the greater world. It is this world that they hope to make their mark in, not some nebulous one to come. Jehovah’s Witnesses look primarily to the one to come. Paul calls it ‘the life that is true life.’ Witnesses take practical positions harmonizing with that atypical goal, and it results in many a mischaracterization, some of which are deliberate on the part of their detractors.  Everywhere the first century sect that is Christianity is denounced, says Acts. Everywhere they “insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you.”39 You don’t pick on groups that people like; you pick on groups that people don’t like—just as people most assuredly did not like Christians in the apostle Paul’s time.

From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia   (see also safe version)

Endnotes

 

  1. “Russian Orthodox Church Supports Ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia,” Religious Information Service of Ukraine, May 6, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://risu.org.ua/en/index/all_news/state/church_state_relations/66866/
  2. 2 Timothy 3:16
  3. Matthew 10:34
  4. Luke 21: 14-19
  5. Pavel Yuryev, “From Heaven to Earth,” General Newspaper, October 23, 2017, Accessed March 13, 2018, https://og.ru/society/2017/10/23/92255
  6. “Jehovah’s Witnesses are Outraged by the Content of the Anti-Sectarian Article Published in the General Gazette” SOVA Center, November 11, 2017, accessed March 13, 2018, http://www.sova-center.ru/religion/news/community-media/media-conflicts/2017/11/d38182, For English translation, see https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/171101a.html
  7. Tim Rymel, “When Is A Religion ‘Extremist’?” Huffington Post, May 11, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/when-is-a-religion-extremist_us_590de8e3e4b046ea176aeb98
  8. Neil Syson, “Teen Hormones Being Altered by Gender-bending Chemicals,” The Sun, February 5, 2018, accessed March 27, 2018, https://nypost.com/2018/02/05/teen-hormones-being-altered-by-gender-bending-chemicals/
  9. Jason Le Miere, “Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban Backed by Flourishing Satanic Church in Moscow,” Newsweek, May 12, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.newsweek.com/jehovahs-witnesses-russia-ban-satanic-church-608334
  10. Genesis 3:5
  11. Matthew 24:14
  12. John 16:2
  13. “Expert: The Ban of ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ in Russia Will Reduce the Number of Their Adherents,” RIA News Russia Today, May 17, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://ria.ru/religion/20170517/1494511149.html
  14. Acts 8:1-4
  15. Acts 21:13
  16. “A Lengthy Legal Struggle Ends in Victory!” The Watchtower – study edition, July 15, 2011, 8 https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/402011522#h=27
  17. Matthew 13:45
  18. 1 Thessalonians 4:13
  19. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
  20. “Lenin Returns to Russia From Exile,” This Day in History, History.com, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lenin-returns-to-russia-from-exile
  21. Scott Shane, “Russia Isn’t the Only One Meddling in Elections. We Do It, Too,” New York Times, February 17, 2018, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/17/sunday-review/russia-isnt-the-only-one-meddling-in-elections-we-do-it-too.html
  22. http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/russian/const/ch2.html
  23. Fred Weir, “Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘Extremists’: Court Sharpens Edges of Russia’s Religious Space,” Christian Science Monitor, May 1, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2017/0501/Jehovah-s-Witnesses-as-extremists-Court-sharpens-edges-of-Russia-s-religious-space
  24. Ibid.
  25. Emily B. Baran, “Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban Spells End for Russia’s Religious Diversity,” The Moscow Times, April 24, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/jehovahs-witnesses-ban-spells-end-of-russias-religious-diversity-op-ed-57793
  26. Lauren Markoe, “Since Ban, Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses is ‘Worse Than Ever,” Religion News Service, May 18, 2017, https://religionnews.com/2017/05/18/since-ban-persecution-of-jehovahs-witnesses-is-worse-than-ever/
  27. Hebrews 4:12
  28. Luke 11:33
  29. “Supreme Court Recommends Depriving Parents Who Involve Children in Sects of Their Rights,” Human Rights Without Frontiers, November 14, 2017, accessed March 13, 2018, http://hrwf.eu/russia-supreme-court-threatens-parental-rights-of-for-example-jehovahs-witnesses/
  30. “Russia’s Attack on Jehovah’s Witnesses - Interim Report” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, January 15, 2018, 7, accessed March 29, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/sites/default/files/docs/russia_report.pdf
  31. “The Survey Showed the Attitude of Russians Towards the Idea of ​​Depriving Parental Rights of Sectarians,” RIA Novosti, December 4, 2017, accessed March 13, 2018, https://news.rambler.ru/sociology/38580039-rossiyane-podderzhali-ideyu-lishat-roditelskih-prav-sektantov/?updated, for English translation, see http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/171204d.html
  32. “Boy Scout Movement Begins,” This Day in History, History, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/boy-scouts-movement-begins
  33. Abe Fortas, Under Secretary of the Interior, “Enduring Peace and Social Progress,” Journal of the Biology and the Pathology of Interpersonal Relations, Vol 9, Number 1, February 1946
  34. Libby Hill, “Kathy Griffin Shocks in Gory Photo Shoot with Donald Trump’s (Fake) Head,” The Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-et-entertainment-news-updates-may-kathy-griffin-shocks-in-gory-photo-1496183372-htmlstory.html
  35. Jeremiah 45: 1-5
  36. Jeremiah 51:20-23
  37. Ezekiel 35: 11-13
  38. 2 Timothy 4:10
  39. Matthew 5:11

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Discipline

After my father died at 94 years of age, family members emptied out his home. I had never before peeked into his office den desk. I came across a heavy leather belt and I thought of keeping it because it was heavy and it was leather, not the cheap junk they sell today that falls apart in no time at all. “You know what that is, don’t you?” said my brother. “It’s THE BELT!” Gasp!!

It didn’t happen like clockwork, but it wasn’t an especially rare thing, either. “Just wait until your father gets home!” my outmaneuvered mother would say. She’d tell on me the moment he walked through the door and then it was one sore rear end for me!

It was reassuring to my sense of history to see that belt, for the revisionists try to rewrite the past to pretend that corporal punishment was phased out in the civilized world eons ago.  In fact, it was an absolutely unremarkable aspect of child-rearing just a few decades ago. It was not necessarily a belt. Usually a sound spanking sufficed. Some had it worse than a mere belt.  My older friend’s dad had him cut his own switch from a tree, and if it wasn’t big enough, dear old dad would cut one himself the size of a two by four.

It was days of long ago. Don’t misunderstand. I make no argument for its return. Don’t think that I do. Having said that, it is by no means clear that today’s children are happier and better adjusted because of its disappearance. 

The etymology of the word ‘discipline’ reveals that it has to do with primarily with training.1 It can incorporate punishment, but that is only a footnote. “Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it,” says Proverbs 22:6. This is the verse that Valery Novik cited in accepting the Order of Parental Glory Award from President Putin. Discipline, as presented in Scripture, is primarily instruction and repetition. “Take to heart these words which I command you today. Keep repeating them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up,” says the Torah.2

How can one not commend Russia for simply having an ‘Order of Parental Glory’ award? presented by the president himself, no less. Public policy caters much less to family here; it certainly stops far short of honoring fine examples publicly. There is much of contemporary policy that would undermine family life. It is too bad that President Putin does not read the marriage and family sections of JW.org and watch the cartoons for the children and whiteboards for the teenagers. He would confer the Parental Glory award upon the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, even though most of them are not parents.

It is a shame that the Novik family is now forbidden to speak about their faith, since they have credited that faith with making them the glorious family they are in the first place. Indeed, one cannot even say with certainty that they still have custody of their children, since the Supreme Court has authorized the removal of children for involving them in activities of a sect or extremist organization.3 Everyone knows it is Jehovah’s Witnesses they have in mind, unless they are thinking of the community-minded ISIS family down the street, the other designated extremist group. It is a satanic ruling that equals anything of Stalin’s era. There can be little doubt that Russian Witnesses call to mind the loyal ones’ retort to the ancient king’s threat to hurl steadfast Jews into the flames: “If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, you should know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up,” the three brave lads told him.4 Imagine imposing such a trial on family heads today; even if they were those whom Putin did not give the prize to, it is unspeakable.

 

For some time after this writer became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 1970s, he would tell persons that marriage lasted among Jehovah’s Witnesses and that divorce was unheard of. It was not true. But it wasn’t that far from not true. ‘One never heard of divorce?’ No, it was I who never heard of divorce among the Witnesses and thus assumed it didn’t happen. For a new person to think that in a population where everyone quickly comes to know everyone else, they had to be as scarce as hen’s teeth, and they were. But they did happen. They even accelerated later amidst an overall explosion of divorce in the greater world that jettisoned away the very concept of permanent monogamous relationship as though something archaic—something to ‘move on’ from.

Witnesses were then the ducks emerging into the raging current that were slowed down but did not give up. They continued on course. Actually, the literal ducks I witnessed on a recent visit to Canada did give up; they emerged from the shelter of a bridge abutment into an unexpectedly raging current following heavy downpours, paddled valiantly for a few seconds and then thought better of it, turning about and going with the flow. Many church members did likewise regarding marriage when confronted with the flood of a new morality. Unsupported in meaningful ways by their own church, they soon yielded to the current. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses doubled down with supplying the right biblical education at the right time, and determination to abide by Bible standards in this regard was, and is ever, continually fortified among the congregations.

It is by not taking a firm stand that illicit conduct is entrenched. God singles out adultery as illicit conduct. It is not a passing phase with him, but it is among the Ten Commandments of Moses.5 Jesus even expands upon it to advise that lustful longing for another’s wife is the same as adultery ‘within one’s heart.’6 It is not hard to see why man’s Maker would dislike it. It breaks up families on a scale to make the most sinister cult look like a beneficent marriage counselor. Adultery is not something a marriage readily gets over. Unfailingly it corrodes families, the bedrock of any society. Not only do children in the household suffer, but married children out of the household suffer; their own marriages are imperiled as they wrestle with the question: ‘If my own parents could not make a go of it, what chance have I?’7 You do not, in any way, want to normalize adultery. It is a malady like those Paul speaks of that spreads like gangrene.

Nonetheless, it is normalized today. When I worked on a job with mostly young people, I let slip that I had been married over twenty years. It was as though I told them I was from another planet. Products of broken homes, most of them, they had never heard of a marriage lasting so long. What chance is there that they will put trust in a model they have never seen work? Adultery is among the reasons God cast aside his ancient people of the Old Testament, summoning Babylon to scatter them. They were as lustful stallions back then, ‘neighing’ after another’s wife.8 In words more mundane than Jeremiah, but dealing with the same time period, Ezekiel lambastes a disobedient nation: “Each of you has defiled his neighbor’s wife.”9 One wonders how literal it can be? ‘Each of you?’ Don’t open the door to that sort of behavior, because the herd will stampede through. Others who never would have thought of such a thing will entertain the idea once they see it has become in vogue.

Adultery is seriously dealt with in Witness congregations. It is not shrugged off as one of those things. It is the one recognized grounds for divorce that the Bible allows. Many an unrepentant person has been disfellowshipped for adultery. Almost always it involves some scheming so that immediate claims of repentance are taken with a substantial grain of salt. Some eventually make their way back into the congregation, for God is the ultimate judge. Others never do. This policy of no tolerance for adultery was used against the Witness organization at the April trial, presented as evidence of extremism. A summary of one day’s testimony included: “The essence of [one witness for the prosecution’s] statement came down to what she said was the existing ‘complete and total control of life by the Administrative Center.’ Responding to a request from the judge to cite instances of control, [she] reported that an example was her expulsion from the congregations after she ‘began her close, but not officially registered, relations with a man,’”10 The acceptance of such ‘evidence’ is but another way of declaring religion should exist so long as it does not do anything meaningful.

On the mild end of congregation discipline, which usually suffices, there are reminders, elucidation, and admonition. But discipline reserves the right to coerce, to rebuke, and to punish. “Do not withhold discipline from youths; if you beat them with the rod, they will not die,” says the proverb, and then even recommends that course as a means to save them from death, continuing: “Beat them with a rod and you will save them from Sheol.” [Hebrew, meaning the grave]11

So unpopular has corporal punishment become in the West that even Jehovah’s Witnesses refrain from acting upon these verses. When the Western media covers spanking now, it tells of a fundamentalist church member who unrelentingly spanks his child until he dies, trying to elicit choice words of contrition from the lad that he refuses to say.12 In the face of uncontrollable conduct in the schools, a few administrators have gingerly allowed that corporal punishment might have a tiny place after all. In this new world, a child is occasionally spanked a single time or two with a paddle, and there are teachers, sometimes parents and principal, to witness it, to ensure it does not get out of hand. The American Civil Liberties Union regards it as a major affront to human dignity.13 What was once as routine as breathing air has now nearly gone extinct. Middle Eastern refugees, some of whom respond to the kingdom message, are dumbfounded that perfectly acceptable child-rearing practices from back home are absolutely taboo in their new home. We tell them that it is not just they, but old-time American parents feel similarly disempowered. What was once allowed and even encouraged can now land them in serious legal hot water.

History rewritten does not mean the old did not exist. The constant refrain of my youth and the generation prior was of how persons hated physical discipline as youngsters but became glad of it later. Even those graduating from Catholic schools, where corporal punishment could be draconian, where ruler-wielding nuns whacked knuckles for the slightest infraction, would often reflect (rightly or wrongly) that they had benefited from it. But times have changed, and ‘corporal punishment’ today is a pejorative phrase.

Discipline in the Bible, which can include physical punishment but does not defer to it first, is portrayed as a good thing, even a necessary thing in raising children. “Discipline your children, and they will bring you comfort, and give delight to your soul,” says Proverbs 29:17. “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it,” adds Hebrews 12:11

Neglecting discipline is painted as a bad thing. “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates reproof is stupid.” (Proverbs 12:1) “Whoever spares the rod hates the child, but whoever loves will apply discipline.” (Proverbs 13:24) “If you are without discipline, in which all have shared, you are not sons but bastards.” (Hebrews 12:8)

The model of family discipline can be extended to illustrate how Jehovah deals with his worshippers in general. “So you must know in your heart that, even as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD, your God, disciplines you.” (Deuteronomy 8:5) “Besides this, we have had our earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not [then] submit all the more to the Father of spirits and live?” (Hebrews 12:9) “Endure your trials as ‘discipline’; God treats you as sons. For what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:7)

It benefits them: “Happy the one whom God reproves! The Almighty’s discipline do not reject.” (Job 5:17) Discipline is not to be rejected even though it can sometimes be severe, as follows: “We cried out in anguish under your [God’s] discipline.” (Isaiah 26:16) Also: “I will continue in my hostile rage toward you, and I myself will discipline you for your sins sevenfold.” (Leviticus 26:28)

One can also extend the model of discipline to illustrate how God deals with those of the Christian congregation. Of Israel, we read: “Then these city elders shall take the man and discipline him.” (Deuteronomy 22:18) In the Christian congregation, discipline was mostly general: “For the command is a lamp, and the teaching a light, and a way to life are the reproofs that discipline.” (Proverbs 6:23) “Fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7) Yet those who taught in the congregation would teach such discipline publicly and privately—it could be individualized. “Brothers, even if a person is caught in some transgression, you who are spiritual should correct that one in a gentle spirit, looking to yourself, so that you also may not be tempted,” says Galatians 6:1. It could escalate in severity: “Reprimand publicly those who do sin, so that the rest also will be afraid.” (1 Timothy 5:20*) It could even become in severe cases: “Purge the evil person from your midst.” (1 Corinthians 5:13)

*The extremist New World Translation is the more balanced here. It renders ‘reprimand publicly’ as the more literal ‘reprove before all onlookers.’ The Governing Body reasoned long ago that “all onlookers” will be those who know of a particular sin, which would seldom include everyone in the congregation. More often it would be just a handful of persons. Moreover, ‘reproof’ indicates an appeal to the heart: a far cry from shaming a person before all as a ‘practicer of sin.’ Reproof, when necessary within the Witness framework, is done privately between the elders and the individual before such “onlookers.”14

Discipline applied in the Christian congregation benefits individuals, but it is not administered solely for their sakes. Jehovah’s Witnesses recognize an obligation to God to present to him a clean people. The Witness Governing Body dares not treat him shabbily, for this is no passing fancy with him. In the Bible book of Acts can be found the record of a meeting to determine Christian policy: “Symeon [Peter] has described how God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name,” James tells the other congregation leaders. His name is what must be honored. “Hallowed (make sacred) be thy name,” Jesus instructs in the ‘Our Father’ prayer.15

The people of the congregation become, in effect, an advertisement for God and for his name. If they maintain conduct separate and distinct from that of a morally decaying world, it reflects well upon him and draws other persons of good heart. If they do not, it becomes clear to others that Christian worship does nothing for a person and is but a social and sermonizing clique. To please God, the congregation knows that it must adhere to his standards. Discipline ranging from the very mild to quite severe is part of the package. The ones who rail at congregation discipline as harmful, such as the anti-cult people and the Satanists, are invariably those focused upon individual rights. Yet not everything can be about the individual. Uncorrected bad influences spread “like gangrene.” Humans are built that way.16

Sexuality in modern times has proven itself more fluid than anyone would have imagined. It does not constrain itself to a one-man/one-woman policy. It does not respect any underage cutoff barrier. It does not respect gender lines; it goes from hetero to bi-sexual to gay and back again. Homosexual relationships, which have always existed, are now beyond edgy and have entered the mainstream in the West. Who knows why it is, but it is. There is the suggestion, from chapter 8, that ubiquitous plastic contains chemicals that interact with living tissue much as does the hormone estrogen. Romans 1:26 is not generally regarded as prophetic, but it could be taken as the Bible’s most striking prophesy: “Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another.” It is not the existence, but the widespread embrace that is staggering; nobody of my generation would have foreseen it. Recently a local couple had their gay pride flag stolen. It was a major news event. I do not condone stealing anyone’s gay pride flag and I have never felt an urge to do it. But the national flag can be worn as underwear and people barely raise an eyebrow.

God’s name is not honored by presenting him with a motley assortment of unruly people. This is why many become Jehovah’s Witnesses in the first place—they are not drafted against their will. Instead, they know that measuring up to God’s higher standards will only benefit them. They know instinctively that discipline is not a bad thing. Congregation discipline is usually mere public instruction that the listener takes to heart, unbeknownst to anyone. Correction is usually quite mild, though it can escalate when lesser means have been exhausted to no effect and when a given provocation is serious enough.

God will ultimately judge those outside. But as for those inside, that is for congregation shepherds to apply Bible discipline.17 To ignore God’s perceived standards is to be a false advertisement of him. It is to be “fake news” about him. Witnesses realize that God must not be thus shortchanged. ‘My people are a reflection of my high standards,’ he would say. ‘They can’t be too high, then,’ people respond, looking around in many places, but not in the Witness congregation. If Witnesses carry on about high standards, the intent is not to be self-righteous. It is a manifestation of their being unwilling to displease God by ignoring his requirements.

This newfound concern, in the case of those becoming Witnesses, is not necessarily appreciated by former friends or even family. Peter says: “For the time that has passed is sufficient for doing what the Gentiles like to do: living in debauchery, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and wanton idolatry. They are surprised that you do not plunge into the same swamp of profligacy, and they vilify you.”18 They don’t quite know what to make of those new concerns and ‘high standards,’ but they figure it out in a hurry, and they figure out that the proper response is to “vilify” those taking to it. Those truly living Christianity will automatically trigger some hostility from those who do not, for the latter read into it an inherent, even though unexpressed, judgement.

The Book of Romans counsels Christians: “You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You who detest idols, do you rob temples? You who boast of the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, ‘Because of you the name of God is reviled among the Gentiles.’”19 The Governing Body does not want to see the Name reviled on its watch. That would be an abuse of its authority, if not from the standpoint of humans, certainly from that of God. It is not management of a bake sale they are dealing with. It is the Name. Of miscreants, we read: “Furthermore, many will follow their brazen conduct, and because of them the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively.”20 The Governing Body doesn’t want that to happen, either, and they counter it to the extent of their ability.

Is it a crime for an organization to insist upon maintaining Bible-based morality among its members—particularly when members sign on exactly because they prefer that morality? Jehovah’s Witnesses have chosen to maintain congregation discipline as a buttress to good intentions, which do not alone always suffice, for we are human and swayed by many influences. Those that would deprive them of that right are those who would neuter religion. They are those who wish it to be a support club for the greater world, and nothing more. Witnesses are among the most successful at its members living Bible morality. Many groups during the past century have chosen to discard discipline. They have that option. It is hardly clear that people are better adjusted for having taken that option, however.

Witnesses keep ‘shunning’ in their tool chest of discipline as a ‘Hail Mary play.’ It is a last-ditch attempt to insist upon godly morality of voluntary members when all else has failed. At any time, ones who have joined the Witness faith are free to leave. So long as they remain, however, they must live the godly principles they have signed on for. Shunning has a place as a play of last resort. When employed it is tough on the individual, as tough discipline always is. But the individual cannot ever be the sole concern. When you hear people treating “the greater good” as a pejorative phrase, then you know the pendulum has overswung towards individual rights. Christianity is nothing if not about recognizing “the greater good,” and it starts with its founder. Did Jesus die because he wanted to assert his rights as an individual?

There was a time when most Christian denominations knew this. There was a time when most Christian denominations disciplined their own members as needed, for they dared not ignore God’s insistence of a clean people. No one had to be a biblical Christian back then, but if they chose to become one, they were to abide by ‘the rules’. While the rules make plenty of allowance for human imperfection, they cannot be blown off as nothing. “We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain [miss its purpose: NWT],” says 2 Corinthians 6:1.

This is why the Witness organization takes an interest in the conduct of its members, which is now spun as a negative in a world that increasingly denigrates or seeks to redefine religion. It takes such interest, not in order to be intrusive or controlling, but in order to comply with the greater Christian requirements as laid out in the Bible. Even whatever pedophile records exist, which have blown up in the Witness organization’s face, would not have existed but for the purpose of identifying this pernicious group so that they be could punished to the degree required and thereafter monitored so that they would not slip from one congregation into another, as they can anywhere else—something no other religion attempts to do. We will visit this white-hot topic in a chapter to come.

 

Just as Daniel apologized for his countrymen, though he had done nothing blameworthy himself, so Ronald J. Sider bemoans America’s evangelicals, telling it all in his 2005 book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience.21 Sure, they believe the Bible, as they are quick to tell you. But they don’t practice the Bible. They don’t apply it in their personal lives. Some do. Some are upright. But in no greater proportion than the world in general.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way, a point which chapter two of his book makes abundantly clear. That chapter is as concise and comprehensive a discussion of the purposed application of the Bible to morality as you will see anywhere. Taking each New Testament book in succession, Mr. Sider highlights verse after verse to show that Christians were (and are) expected to live under Christ’s law, and that doing so would produce a people who lived so decently that their lives, not merely their words, would be a drawing card for the faith:

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV. Here we will employ the translation Sider employs, the New International Version, which is also safe and legal to read in Russia. They all are, except for the New World Translation.) “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21) “If Paul is even close to being right about what it means to be a Christian, one can only weep at the scandalous behavior of Christians today,” Mr. Sider states. “How many preachers today speak that clearly about the sins of greed, adultery, and slander?”

He quotes again 1 Peter, just as we have above, but in a different translation: “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.” (1 Peter 4:3-4) Apparently, the countercultural lifestyle of these early Christians was obvious to outsiders, he notes. Not so today among the evangelical community. “Our disobedient lifestyles crucify our Lord anew,” he writes. After reviewing the evidence, “we have seen the stunning contrast between what Jesus and the early church said and did and what so many evangelicals do today. Hopefully that contrast will drive us to our knees, first to repent and then to ask God to help us understand the causes of this scandalous failure and the steps we can take to correct it.”22

Mr. Sider then does just that, and the goes on to offer some remedies. You cannot read these remedies without noting they are the very building blocks of the Jehovah’s Witness organization. They are all matters of discipline and organization. And they do, to a great degree, solve the woes Mr. Sider describes. First, says Mr. Sider, the Western world’s obsession with independence must end, to be replaced with recognition that Christians are a community belonging to, and having responsibility for, each other. Paul goes so far as to say Christians ought to be slaves to one another. Galatians 5:13 literally reads “be slaves to each other,” yet most popular translations, Mr. Sider notes, dilute the verse to a more independence-savoring “serve one another in love.”23 (but not so the New World Translation. It reads: “through love slave for one another.”)

Many churches today trumpet that they are “independent Bible believing,” yet the very notion is “heretical,” says Mr. Sider.24 To be part of the body of Christ, a church must align itself with a larger structure to give “guidance, supervision, direction, and accountability.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have exactly such a structure in their Governing Body. Opponents rail against it as an agency employing “mind control.”

Secondly, Mr. Sider suggests, any congregation with over fifty members ought to arrange its people into small groups, where oversight and encouragement can more effectively be offered.25 They’re called ‘service meeting groups.’ Since as long as anyone can remember, congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses have made use of such small groups.

‘Make it harder to join’ is a third suggestion.26 Evangelical Conscience points to early Anabaptists and Wesleyans, as though no modern examples existed, Jehovah’s Witnesses being a ‘cult’ to many of them. These groups took their time admitting new members, ensuring that their conduct as well as words lined up with Christ’s teachings. They did not just settle for a quick “accept the Lord and be saved.” Jehovah’s Witnesses are well known for requiring an extensive period of Bible study and application as a prerequisite to baptism.

Lastly, “parachurch” organizations, groups like Youth for Christ, that transcend the larger church structure, have, by definition, no accountability to anybody: “Many of the worst, most disgraceful actions that embarrass and discredit the evangelical world come from this radical autonomy,” says Evangelical Conscience. Somehow, such groups have to be brought into tow, though Mr. Sider admits that he has no clue as to how to accomplish this.27 The Governing Body does and implements it, despite howls of protests from the anti-cultists.

The internal discipline now practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses was practiced in most Protestant denominations until less than 100 years ago and was based on the same scriptures that Ronald Sider identifies. But when it became unpopular, they gave it up. As a result, the morals and lifestyle of today’s evangelical church members are indistinguishable from that of the general populace. The ones who actually apply Christianity are left unreinforced, in some ways even challenged, by their own church. Long-time Witnesses will recall circuit overseers pointing out that 60 years ago the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and churchgoers in general was doctrinal, not moral. Time was when there was little difference between the two groups with regard to conduct. Today the chasm is huge. Can internal discipline and the organization daring to implement it not be the deciding factor?

As a method of last resort, the Bible authorizes expulsion from the Christian community: “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people, not at all referring to the immoral of this world or the greedy and robbers or idolaters; for you would then have to leave the world. But I now write to you not to associate with anyone named a brother, if he is immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer, a drunkard, or a robber, not even to eat with such a person. For why should I be judging outsiders? Is it not your business to judge those within? God will judge those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from your midst.’”28

Jehovah’s Witnesses live according to Bible morality; the fact is widely recognized. However, such living is not to be taken for granted. It does not happen without discipline to reinforce each members’ resolve to live as Christ did. Expulsion from the congregation is never taken lightly. It always represents a last-ditch effort to reach the individual in addition to protecting the congregation from corrosive influence. Is it necessary? Suffice it to say no group has succeeded in adhering to Bible morality without it. Everyone else is carried along by the winds of popular opinion—some hanging on trees for a while as though in a hurricane, and some already caught in flight hurtling along and loosening the grips, through collision, of those attempting to hang on.

Church discipline used to be a significant, accepted part of most evangelical traditions, Sider writes. “In the second half of the twentieth century, however, it has largely disappeared.” He then quotes Haddon Robinson on the current church climate, a climate he calls ‘consumerism.’ “Too often now when people join a church,” Robinson writes, “they do so as consumers. If they like the product, they stay. If they do not, they leave. They can no more imagine a church disciplining them than they could a store that sells goods disciplining them. It is not the place of the seller to discipline the consumer. In our churches, we have a consumer mentality.”29

Get this undisciplined church mob away from here! Because of their misdeeds, those who must preach the good news in all the inhabited earth suffer. Unfortunately, this is the model that the anti-cult experts today favor, those who attempt to neuter serious religion so as not to pose a challenge for the bland religion they prefer—religion that mounts no threat to their world-view. ‘Does God want a clean people? Tell him to take a hike. They’ll be ‘clean’ if they want to, but there must be no outside influence,’ say the anti-cult people. Sider’s book aptly demonstrates that they will not be clean in that circumstance.

Who would have thought that the greater world would pry into Christianity’s internal discipline in an attempt to short-circuit it? Most of religion has complied with this new normal of ‘hands off’ as to conduct. They have come to acquiesce that religion is not to be taken too seriously. It is not to get into morals. Morals in the abstract is okay, but insistence on individual morals is ‘controlling people.’ ‘We’ll handle that if we deem it objectionable—and little of it is,’ says the overall world. Discipline used to be “an accepted and significant part of most evangelical traditions,” Mr. Sider writes.  ‘You cannot do it anymore,’ declare the anti-cultists; ‘We’ve moved on.’ With both hands tied behind its back, their Christianity cannot and does not deliver the moral goods, providing detractors ample reason to condemn it. The anti-cult movement is a movement to stamp out meaningful religion. One cannot state it more concisely.

 

Disfellowshipping among Jehovah’s Witnesses is last-ditch application of discipline to be applied when all else has failed. Aspects of it may be arguable. The general idea is not. The Witness governing arrangement is ever conscious of the individual, for they know that people are fragile and that this system of things appears almost designed to expose a person’s individual fragility and then exploit it to the fullest degree. God is not blind to the individual, for ‘not a sparrow falls to the ground unnoticed,’ but he is intensely jealous over the moral cleanness and exclusive devotion of the group. He shows no sign of getting over it. The Christian congregation is not to be a mere typical slice of society modified by a smiling God logo. It should truly represent morals above and beyond. It should be an oasis for those tired of today’s widespread moral decay. This result is not something that happens by chance, but it happens by members watching over themselves individually and as a group. It doesn’t happen for Sider’s people because they neglect those things.

It has been a dozen years or so since the expression ‘disfellowship’ has been heard in a Kingdom Hall. On occasion the announcement is read that so-and-so is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Let me tell you that it goes over like a dirge—it is a very sad announcement. It is a lose-lose for both parties, and the light at the end of the tunnel seems not so bright at all—by no means all a sure thing. When all provisions for correction and mercy have been exhausted, a person is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses if he or she persists in conduct or speech blatantly out of harmony with Bible standards. Has expulsion ever been ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back?’ Judas was so distraught over being expelled that he committed suicide. Even so, nobody would ever think that was the fault of God, nor of his Son who declined to forget his Father’s requirements. Almost always the focus today is on the rights of people as individuals. Almost never is it the rights of people as groups, as though what they are as member of groups has no bearing on what they will be as individuals.

Detractors’ relentless condemnation of disfellowshipping in the Witness community stems from the viewpoint that a person’s immediate well-being is the issue of ultimate importance. It is the same approach of the churches who say it is all about us: all about our own personal salvation and personal relationship with Jesus. Does God want a clean people, since a soiled one, physically, morally, or spiritually, is a reflection on him and makes him ‘fake news?’ Fugedaboudit! as the expression goes. Opponents would have the world believe that it is primarily about religion not stepping on the toes—ever—of any individual. State can do it if it sees fit, but not religion, for the latter has been assigned the role of “bringing us together.”

Should congregation authority be so hard for the Russian government to understand? What of their old proverb about government? “Ask the children what they want for dinner, and they say: ‘ice cream.’ They get beetroot soup because they live under communist rule, and not a democracy.” What is democracy, H.L. Mencken says, but “the pathetic notion that individual ignorance adds up to collective wisdom?”  It is not so different in the Christian congregation, which is constructed biblically along something better than democratic lines.

 

Upping the ante significantly is the Bible’s authorization of control over some types of speech. It is not an entirely foreign concept to the greater world today. ‘Everyone has the right to free speech, but no one has the right to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,’ learned ones will nod to each other. Scriptures expand upon the list of things you can’t yell in a crowded congregation. New Testament letters to Timothy and Titus tell of some, even some named individually, who “must be silenced because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach.” Some unhealthy teachings “spread like gangrene,” and “they destroy the faith of some.” Two such ‘teachers’ were “handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” Some others were to be “rebuked sharply.” It is not exactly a mecca of free speech that is described.30

Some, described in the Second Letter of John, “pushed ahead” and “did not remain in the teaching of the Christ.” Of such a person we read: “Do not receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him” so as not to be “a sharer in his wicked works.” Persons of Western background can scarcely believe it—discipline extends to reproving those who will not control the tongue. Here we run into problems with American-styled churches, for they are so enamored with the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence that they simply assume such ideas are enshrined in the Bible. When shown they are not, they assume it anyway, as though the Bible writers would have said it had they a better way with words. It is axiomatic to them that the church should reflect Western values, the most sacrosanct of which is free speech. However, as American civil–rights advocate Joel Engardio, who was raised a Witness, recalls telling his teachers as a child (to their non-enthusiasm), that God is not an American.31

One could almost argue that the discipline over misuse of speech is the discipline of paramount importance, for the tongue can do the most damage. “The tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also a fire,” says the Letter of James. Consistently, the governing arrangement of the growing first-century congregation sought to hose down all “arguments” and “pretensions” “raising itself against the knowledge of God.”32

“Are you so easily stumbled? Is anyone?” says a proponent of unrestricted free speech, aghast that someone would discourage it. Is there a doctor who says the same to the patient’s body cells about gangrene? The doctor of ‘individual rights’ would dismiss gangrene as not a cause for concern, but not the doctor who wants to keep his license. He will not think that every cell should be able to take care of itself and not be so easily stumbled.  He knows they are not built that way.

Some of what throws a wrench into this discipline for what is ultimately thought a good cause is that, in some cases, the departing one no longer troubles himself about living forever, on earth or anywhere else. He or she has gone atheistic and has come to think the remaining few decades a great bargain, with no sense of being cheated from all eternity. When the world embraces atheism many paradigms shift. One can hardly expect atheists to recognize God’s interests that a separate people be kept as clean of this world’s defilements as possible. Usually they will read that stated interest as ‘judgmental.’

‘Remove the unclean man from yourselves,’ the Bible says. If ones do it themselves, however, no one comes after them. But it is the fury that anyone should think them ‘unclean’ that motivates some vociferous opponents of the Witnesses; the world has moved on from the notion of moral absolutes. In the West, a rapidly emerging paradigm is that if one is not seen to embrace any new cause, it indicates one is a hater of that cause, notwithstanding whether that course stems from Bible scripture or not. That circumstance may even intensify the perception.

Jehovah’s Witnesses still maintain, as many faiths once did, that not ‘all roads lead to heaven’—they are not all the same—and that, if one would survive into the new world to come, one must serve God according to his standards and his truths, not theirs. If one leaves to join another religion (for example, surely one who joins the Mormons is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses), they have apostatized from the faith. Far from being an extreme interpretation, it is what every denomination should do. Mormons do it themselves, I believe. However, few people take religion that seriously. Few can imagine making such a fuss over God, though they will go for the jugular when it comes to human politics.

From their point of view, it has become: ‘Why make trouble over such things? Surely God will roll with it, especially since he may not exist anyway.’ Denomination is a difference not meaningful to them. ‘Why change horses midstream?’ they reason, ‘but if you do anyway, who cares?’ When my father, years ago, declared his intention to marry the woman who would become my mother, the Catholic Church said she would have to convert to Catholicism first. ‘Forget that!’ Pop said, and they never saw him again. Having little that is unique to offer in a world that is not too spiritual in the first place, most churches today throw away such obstacles to retain members.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, are absolutely unique; their combination of certain biblical teachings is to be found nowhere else, and they employ Christian correction so as to keep those teachings untainted. Churches have forsaken discipline with regard to apostatizing because they have little to apostatize from. They have fallen sound asleep spiritually and have acquiesced to the prevailing view that ‘all roads lead to heaven.’ Seen from this perspective of the believer, disfellowshipping is not cutting off a family member—so the departing one merely moves up the hour of separation which will occur anyway at cut-off time for this world. Therefore, the ultimate goal in avoiding even a family member who departs for different actions or beliefs is to help him see he must self-correct spiritually, thus re-uniting the family forever spiritually and otherwise.

Jesus pointedly says that, in some cases, choosing him will cause contention in a family, and that if one chooses him over family, it is a good thing, not a bad thing. This is not the world the anti-cultists want to see, so they attach the ‘cult’ label to those observing Jesus’ words. They say: ‘Surely, these cults use foul means wrestling converts from the mother Church.’ In so saying, they attempt to wrestle Scripture away from the ones who wrote it.

It is never a piece of cake to turn 180 degrees from previously held positions. It causes discord anywhere. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth,” Jesus says. “I came to bring, not peace, but a sword. “For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’” And “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever has greater affection for son or daughter than for me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Yes, religion can even tear at the family fabric. Is there anything thicker than blood ties? Jesus’ plain answer is in the affirmative.33

“I have come to bring not peace but the sword”—nearly everyone other than Jehovah’s Witnesses act as though these Bible verses do not exist. Nearly everyone thinks that Christianity should be a subset of the status quo, if not the State itself. Nearly everyone thinks that the minute popular wisdom accepts a new norm, it should be accommodated in the congregation. Nearly everyone cherry-picks, goes for the feel-good verses, and ignores the ones they don’t like. This is why their versions of Christianity do not work. This is why people become Jehovah’s Witnesses in the first place. ‘Finally,’ they say. ‘A people who actually live the scriptures and don’t use them simply to soften a quest for success in this world.’

Disgruntled family members who have found themselves on the outside looking in and yet decline to change their chosen course so as to get back in, like the aforementioned witness in the April trial, spread the view that Jehovah’s Witnesses break up families. The European Court of Human Rights, when called upon to weigh in on this charge in 2010, didn’t buy it, writing: “It is the resistance and unwillingness of non-religious family members to accept and to respect their religious relative’s freedom to manifest and practice his or her religion that is the source of conflict.”34

Discipline is a tough sell today. It is decidedly unpopular. The need for it is a constant of life, however. Let us play with the notion as we consider the prophet Malachi. Did he have teenagers? How else can one explain his style of writing? The Book of Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament, a short work of just four chapters. The entire book is read in less time than a quarter of this chapter:

 

I love you, says the LORD; but you say, “How do you love us?”

And if I am a master, where is the fear due to me? So says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who disdain my name. But you ask, “How have we disdained your name?”

“‘By presenting polluted food on my altar.’ ‘And you say: “How have we polluted you?”’

By offering defiled food on my altar! You ask, “How have we defiled it?”

You have wearied the LORD with your words, yet you say, “How have we wearied him?”

Return to me, that I may return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, “Why should we return?”

Can anyone rob God? But you are robbing me! And you say, “How have we robbed you?”

Your words are too much for me, says the LORD. You ask, “What have we spoken against you?”

Enough already! Everything is challenged! Everything is hurled back in God’s face. Just for kicks, turn the page. Find yourself in the gospels. What if Mary had answered the angel that way when he announced that she would carry the Child: “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you?” What if she had shot back: “In what way is he with me?” Had she talked back like that to the angel it might not be Mary remembered as the mother of our Lord. It might be Olga or Tatiana.

Mary did not smart-mouth the angel. She almost seems an anomaly. Paul summarizes God’s customary dealings with the Israel of that time at Romans 10:21: “All day long I stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contentious people.” In the world of Bible translation, most works list ‘disobedient’ as the first adjective when rendering that verse. The second is up for grabs. The house Bible used here, NABRE, says ‘contentious’. Others say ‘obstinate’, ‘rebellious’, or ‘stubborn’. Some older translations say ‘gainsaying’. The banned New World Translation says obstinate. But the pre-revised NWT of 1981 hit the nail on the head, by saying they ‘talk back.’ Apparently when that version was revised in 2013, someone thought ‘talk back’ was too much of a departure, but I like it best. After all, in the olde English, ‘gain’ means ‘against’, so ‘talk back’ seems not too bad an update of ‘gainsay.’

Jehovah’s Witnesses conform to discipline without too much fuss. They are not the sort to engage in political protest over what the king is doing or is not doing. Within the congregation as well, they conform to discipline. They bring to life an observation of Nathaniel Hawthorne: “People who think the most bold of thoughts have no difficulty conforming to outward norms of society.”35 Nobody thinks thoughts more bold than Jehovah’s Witnesses. By conforming to the usually minimal discipline of the king and the congregation, they enjoy a remarkable peace and unity unknown to the general world.

Though Hawthorne doesn’t say it, the reverse of his statement is also true: people who cannot conform to the outward norms of society are apt to be the most inwardly conformist of all. Totally obsessed with the petty freedoms this world has to offer, they are blind to the significant freedoms: freedom from fear of death, for example, that a relationship with God enables. One is reminded of the pigs Jesus sent rushing over the precipice, pigs blinded by the ‘demons’ of their momentary thinking—too distracted by them to notice the drop ahead.36

From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia    (see also safe version)

Endnotes

  1. Insight on the Scriptures (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1988) Vol 1, 629
  2. Deuteronomy 6:6-7
  3. “The Survey Showed the Attitude of Russians Towards the Idea of Depriving Parental Rights of Sectarians,” RIA Novosti, December 4, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://news.rambler.ru/sociology/38580039-rossiyane-podderzhali-ideyu-lishat-roditelskih-prav-sektantov/?updated. For English translation, see http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/171204d.html
  4. Daniel 3:17-18
  5. Exodus 20:1-17
  6. Matthew 5:28
  7. Kenney, C. “Bad News for Kids of Divorce” Boston Globe, April 6, 1993, 64 as accessed March 28, 2018 at CYS Infopedia, Culture and Youth Studies, http://cultureandyouth.org/divorce/articles-divorce/bad-news-for-kids-of-divorce/
  8. Jeremiah 5:8
  9. Ezekiel 33:26
  10. “The Supreme Court Spent Nine Hours in Search of Extremism Among Jehovah’s Witnesses,” Caucasion Knot, April 13, 2017, accessed March 14, 2018, https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/300950, for English translation, see https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170413c.html
  11. Proverbs 23:13
  12. Jeff Hodson, “Did Hana’s Parents ‘Train’ Her to Death?” The Seattle Times, November 27, 2011, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/did-hanas-parents-train-her-to-death/
  13. “A Violent Education - Corporal Punishment of Children in U.S. Public Schools,” Human Rights Watch and American Civil Liberties Union, February 2009, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/humanrights/aviolenteducation_execsumm.pdf
  14. “Giving Reproof ‘Before all Onlookers’,” The Watchtower, December 1, 1976, 14
  15. Acts 15:14
  16. 2 Timothy 2:17
  17. 1 Corinthians 5:12-13
  18. 1 Peter 4:3
  19. Romans 2:21-24
  20. 2 Peter 2:1-2
  21. Ronald J. Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005)
  22. Sider, The Scandal, 53
  23. Ibid., 108
  24. Ibid., 111
  25. Ibid., 112-113
  26. Ibid., 116
  27. Ibid., 111
  28. Corinthians 5:9-13
  29. Sider, The Scandal, 114-11
  30. Titus 1:11, 2 Timothy 2:17-18, 1 Timothy 1:20, Titus 1:13
  31. Transcript: Joel Engardio, “Learning True Tolerance,” NPR – Weekend Edition Sunday, November 25, 2007, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16505529
  32. 2 John 2:10-11, James 3:5-8, 2 Corinthians 10:5
  33. Mark 10:28-30
  34. Matthew 10:34-36.
  35. “A Lengthy Legal Struggle Ends in Victory!” The Watchtower – study edition, July 15, 2011, 8, accessed March 27, 2018, https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/402011522#h=27
  36. It is a description of Hester Prynne in ‘The Scarlet Letter.’
  37. Matthew 8:30-32

000

 

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A Governing Body

The first institution of higher learning in the Western World, the Academy of Athens, was founded by Plato in 387 BC. Much of what is bedrock to Western civilization traces back to him. Plato recorded his concept of ideal government in which he advocated rule by “philosopher-kings.” He favored monarchy, but not hereditary monarchy. Instead, his rulers were to be selected, by already-existing rulers, on the basis of merit. This would follow a lengthy period of education designed to separate the wheat from the chaff, so lengthy that it seems nobody under age fifty would be eligible for consideration. Consider an excerpt from ‘The 100,’ an intriguing book by Michael Hart, which undertakes to rate the one hundred most influential persons throughout history (Plato is #40):1

“Only those persons who show that they can apply their book learning to the real world should be admitted into the guardian class. Moreover, only those persons who clearly demonstrate that they are primarily interested in the public welfare are to become guardians. Membership in the guardian class would not appeal to all persons. The guardians are not to be wealthy. They should be permitted only a minimal amount of personal property, and no land or private homes. They are to receive a fixed (and not very large) salary and may not own either gold or silver. Members of the guardian class should not be permitted to have separate families, but are to eat together, and are to have mates in common. The compensation of these philosopher-kings should not be material wealth, but rather the satisfaction of public service.”

Anyone familiar with Jehovah’s Witnesses will recognize at once that these words almost exactly describe their Governing Body. Only the “mates in common” does not apply. It is too rich: the group who, without fuss, and no doubt unknowingly, actually applies the words of the philosopher Plato, is a relatively uneducated group beneath the notice of many today—Jehovah’s Witnesses. Imagine! The standard-bearer of modern intellectuals devises a system of government that they admire, but cannot reproduce, and then the Governing Body stumbles along and says ‘Hey, we’ll try some of that,’ and implements it without sweat!

One may object that Plato’s recommendation is for the government of nations, whereas Jehovah’s Witnesses are a religion. But the similarities are more striking than the differences. Worldwide, Jehovah’s Witnesses number over eight million, midway on the scale of nations, with about the same population as Switzerland. The Bible speaks of God’s people as “a great nation.” It shouts: “Open up the gates that a righteous nation may enter, one that keeps faith.” It warns religious opponents that “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people [translations vary about 50/50, some opting for ‘people,’ others ‘nation’] that will produce its fruit.”2

Scripturally, Jehovah’s Witnesses are a nation as real as any nation on the world’s roster of nations today. In fact, they are more so, since their citizens are more united. Their universal reputation of being moral, decent, and law-abiding people is no accident, nor is it explained solely by their belief in the Bible as the source of divine instruction. It is also the result of effective administration—governing. Many groups that claim to follow the Bible are populated by members whose lifestyles belie the claim, as Sider makes clear in the prior chapter. Jehovah’s Witnesses are unified in a common goal and purpose. They practice what they preach and, heaven knows, they preach. It is all a result of effective governing. They are Plato’s dream come true.

The reason Jehovah’s Witnesses can do it and the intellectuals cannot is that Plato’s system depends upon persons who are neither ambitious, nor materialistic, nor overly proud. It is not that such persons cannot be found among the general population. It is that the values of this world are such that these persons cannot rise to the top. Once they are spotted, they are dismissed as impractical nuts and shunted off to the bottom, as in some great antitypical game of Chutes and Ladders. But in the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses, these people do rise to the top, and part of their very qualifications is that they do not regard themselves as ‘rising to the top,’ but only as fellow Christians willing and able to serve.

One can almost entertain the fantasy of Plato himself appearing on the world stage today. As soon as they discover it, today’s educated best would rush to welcome him into their homes and, of course, he would graciously accept. In time he would learn that, while he was honored with words, he was yet dismissed as an impractical dreamer with regard to his ideas of government. Eventually (it might take a while) he would discover that Jehovah’s Witnesses had put his ideas into practice. He would rush over to Bethel to consult, where they, having no idea who he is, would make him take a number and wait his turn.

 

In the first century, the “apostles and presbytrs” in Jerusalem formed a governing body to set policy for the rapidly expanding Christian faith. That agency determined how scripture would apply to new developments, much as a Supreme Court might determine how a country’s constitution might apply to new developments. Without such application, a constitution quickly becomes irrelevant. The fifteenth chapter of Acts provides a specific example of how Christians were governed then. The specific issue hardly matters; it is not a burning topic today. It is the template that matters. Today, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses uses that template in directing modern Christian activity. Read it and note the dispute and the agreed-upon channel of redress. Note how, prior to reaching a decision, scripture is considered, both historical and prophetic. Witnesses are heard who testify to the role holy spirit is manifestly playing among the congregations. The resulting decision is put into writing and sent to all the congregations: “As they traveled from city to city, they handed on to the people for observance the decisions reached by the apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem. Day after day the churches grew stronger in faith and increased in number.”3

Alas for those who suppose God is an American. Alas for those who suppose Christianity ought to be based upon Western democracy. Churches in America typically paint God as American. He is enthralled with democracy, majority rule and freedom of speech. But it wasn’t guidelines being delivered back then by the apostles and presbyters. It wasn’t suggestions. It wasn’t proposals to be put to popular vote. It was decisions which were to be observed. Nearly all English translations use words as “decisions” or “decrees.” The New International Version calls them “decisions for the people to obey.” The Amplified Bible strays slightly with “regulations,” Moffatt’s New Testament translation: “resolutions,” the Good News Bible: “rules.” Only the ridiculously paraphrased Message translation waters down the phrase to: “simple guidelines which turned out to be most helpful.” Isn’t this what one would expect? If God’s ways are truly higher than our ways and people become Christians precisely for that reason, does anyone really think that God’s ways would be determined by majority vote? If that is the case, what would be the need for God?4

The apostles and presbyters governed from Jerusalem as a God-ordained arrangement. They were not ambitious men seizing power. They were Christians with the most experience, men who had introduced the faith to others, and they saw to their own succession. Is this arrangement to be extended into the present? Jehovah’s Witnesses say yes. It is what they glean from consideration of a passage in Matthew: “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so. Amen, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property.”5

At first glance, one might wonder if these verses can refer to governing at all. I’ve had someone tell me they are no more than a nice story with the moral to always do your best. But consider that the verses are embedded in Matthew 24 and 25, two Bible chapters devoted to prophesies and parables about Christ’s return. Matthew 24:3 leads with the question posed by Jesus’ disciples: “Tell us, when will this happen, and what sign will there be of your coming, and of the end of the age?” The next chapter consists of three parables in which the Master returns after a long absence and settles accounts with his slaves. ‘What have they been doing while he has been gone?’ he wants to know. Some have been diligent. Some have been negligent. Some have kept alert. Some have fallen asleep.  Some have done well by his brothers. Some have ignored them. As is typical, Jesus speaks in illustrations.

Today, among Jehovah’s Witnesses, that “faithful and prudent servant,” found by the “master on his arrival” to be giving “food at the proper time,” has been appointed over all [the Master’s] belongings. It defines a governing body which oversees kingdom interests on earth. As closely as possible, it models itself after the pattern set by that first century governing body. In this way, congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses are governed. They thereby maintain unity and stand for something separate. They do not merely reflect national or cultural norms of the day endorsed and slightly modified with a religious seal of approval.

Members of the Witnesses Governing Body are not bluebloods born into privilege. They are ministers illustrating the root meaning of the word: ‘through the dust.’6 They have not been as lowly as their ‘brothers.’ They have been more lowly than most of them, engaging in the full-time ministry throughout their lives—humble, door to door work, often humbled again through assignments to poverty-stricken locations. To cite author Hart, they have “applied their book learning to the real world” and have “demonstrated that they are primarily interested in the public welfare.”

Even now, they essentially live in dormitories. They are nice dormitories, to be sure, but they are dormitories nonetheless. Their basic needs are covered, but they are not amassing pensions or retirement plans. They needn’t hitchhike to get where they want to go, but they generally relied on public transportation back in the day. Though heading an eight-million-member organization, when they fly, it is via commercial flight. They thus typify again Plato’s ideal government: “The guardians are not to be wealthy. They should be permitted only a minimal amount of personal property, and no land or private homes. They are to receive a fixed (and not very large) salary and may not own either gold or silver…The compensation of these philosopher-kings should not be material wealth, but rather the satisfaction of public service.”7

Members of the Governing Body could be described as having been set on high, who have prepared for it by time spent in places low. They would say that they strive to be examples of trusting in God. They yet read the Bible regularly, a course they advise for everyone else, reflecting the kings of ancient Israel who were directed to read the Mosaic Law daily. When they devise some new Bible-based training school, they put themselves through it first, where they are ever reminded of what they aspire to be. Yet, even as they are aware of their own imperfections, they do their level best to shepherd the flock, to ward off sectarian influences, and to give direction in order to meet current circumstances. They issue “decisions” as their counterparts did in the first century.

They hold to the Bible as best they can and unabashedly refer to it as “God’s Word,” a designation the more liberal churches abandoned decades ago, possibly so that they would not be looked down upon by intellectuals. They like God’s pleading expressed by Isaiah: “If only you would attend to my commandments, your peace would be like a river, your vindication like the waves of the sea.”8 Peace is a good thing. They are ever vigilant to teach God’s commandments so as to help ones attain it. They take God’s side as the murmurers complain “The LORD’s way is not fair!’ Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair? Are not your ways unfair?” If the brilliant thoughts of those who think them truly were worth the paper they were printed on, surely they would have resulted in a better world by now.9

In view of the modest means of the Governing Body members, Hart’s further assessment is readily understood: “Membership in the guardian class would not appeal to all persons.” There were persons of the first century who wanted Paul’s authority—but not his work. These were the “superapostles,” ambitious men coveting power. Some of them made a grab for power, mostly by disrespecting direction from the “apostles and presbyters” and teaching whatever they pleased within their sphere of influence.

Paul became so fed up with them that he, at one point, seemed to take leave of his senses: “Are they ministers of Christ? (I am talking like an insane person). I am still more, with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death. Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?” One can almost picture caretakers hauling him off for a sedative at this point and a check of blood pressure! How much can a man take? He does the work! They grab the credit! Most of Paul’s would-be usurpers were essentially established men comfortable in their home congregations, lacking the track record of Paul but confident that they had the wisdom to compensate for that lack.10

One of that number, Diotrephes, ruled his local roost. The apostle John says: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to dominate, does not acknowledge us. Therefore, if I come, I will draw attention to what he is doing, spreading evil nonsense about us. And not content with that, he will not receive the brothers, hindering those who wish to do so and expelling them from the church.” The same drama plays out in the modern-day with some insistent that they should have greater input in “decisions” that are made through the governing arrangement and who are inclined to second-guess them all.11

Members of the Governing Body are selected by existing members from the tiny subset of Witnesses who profess to be anointed. Details of this anointing are doctrinal and dull to non-Witnesses and well-known to actual Witnesses. Suffice it to say that it is a group numbering just 144,000 (a number taken from Revelation) throughout all Christian history. Consequently, almost all of Jehovah’s Witnesses today look forward to everlasting life on earth under God’s kingdom rule, but this small number profess the hope of being part of that rule in heaven upon their death. There they will be a “kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth.”12 They ‘profess’ this hope but once a year—never verbally—by partaking of the wine and unleavened bread at the celebration of Lord’s Evening Meal, the only meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses of which a portion could ever be described as ceremonial.

Since those with the heavenly hope self-identify, is it possible for a person to do so simply to one day assume leadership of the organization? Were mere education the criteria, such might be the case, but since decades of unpaid service is also a prerequisite to such leadership, it is inconceivable. Among the greatest sins one can commit is to ‘partake unworthily,’ falsely partaking of emblems representing the Christ. Dishonest persons might blow past this stricture and do it anyway, but they are not going to supply proof of their ‘qualifications’ with decades of lowly service. In the individual congregations, members professing the heavenly hope—there are only ten thousand or so worldwide—enjoy no special status and are not inclined to draw attention to themselves or their calling. The arrangement is one of the future, not the present, apart from the few who serve as a governing body. At present, that agency numbers eight. The number fluctuates.

The Governing Body’s model is that of ‘rising through the ranks.’ As in the first century, they are “men who have given up their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”13 It is a marked difference between leadership in the Witness organization versus leadership in the greater religious world. There, generally speaking, applicants attend a specialized college, earn a degree, find a church to hire them as pastor or assign them as priest. From that start, there may be a promotional ladder to be climbed. Thus, one may eventually become a church leader having never truly followed. With those who have served on the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses it has been different. They have spent decades in full-time service performing a ministry more lowly than that of most persons they will one day lead. It is only after, not before, they have “given up their lives” that they receive specialized training to lead.

The Governing Body strives to promote peace with the national “king” in whatever nation in which it operates. No king will find more cooperative citizens than Witnesses so long as he does not insist upon invading God’s turf. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”14 If Caesar wants you to walk a mile, walk two. Don’t sulk because he is doing something you don’t like—thank him for building the roads you drive on. Don’t test him and take up the side of those making him trouble. Honor him for his efforts to keep the unruly in check. Don’t niggle him out of his taxes. Pay up. Fear his authority, for the verse cautions he “does not bear the sword for nothing.”15

Help him out where he tries to promote moral strength among his people. He sees some of them falling prey to alcoholism, sloth, drugs and petty crime. Be a bulwark against those things. Pick up the litter in the park that his more careless subjects strew about. In fact, even pray for the king, not for the success of his plans, for that is his business, but pray as Paul advised Timothy to pray: “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”16 Do what the king says. But if he tries to regulate worship or ministry, then there is no choice but to give God’s things to God.

‘Exactly, your honor,’ tell him. ‘We’ll be nothing but model citizens. Please leave us be in our efforts to declare the Bible’s teachings. If we are wrong in our interpretation, we’ll look like fools. We’ll take that risk. But under no circumstances does it ever become a threat to you, for everyone knows we are the most peaceful people in the world. Do not deprive your citizens the right to decide for themselves about all-important spiritual things. Do not take anyone’s word for it that our interpretation of Scripture is wrong, especially when they make little effort to teach it themselves. This advertising of the Bible’s good news (gospel) is what we must do, for “this is good and pleasing to God our savior who wills everyone to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.”17

Jehovah’s Witnesses are often described as ‘pacifist’ but the description is not technically correct. They are neutral with regard to the conflicts of this world, which goes further than pacifism. They will not fight, but they will also not take a desk job for the war effort. They stay separate from it all. They feel that heroes and villains should be determined by the Bible’s measure, and not by the dictates of the national king. There will typically be heroes and villains on both sides. Can the current military person really fit in with God’s overall purpose? Since they have demonstrated in this world that they will blow my head off with a gun if some man tells them to, there is a problem. They will have to give up that allocation of loyalty before one could trust them in God’s new system.

Still, notwithstanding the seemingly opposite views of Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of the military over how patriotism is best expressed, it is not uncommon for the two to have respect for one another. Both recognize the value of discipline. Both recognize the value of self-sacrifice. A professional soldier will often respect the professional soldier of the other side for serving the cause he believes in. Once they see it is the same with Jehovah’s Witnesses serving their cause, perceptions sometimes change.

Many accept it as normal that perception should be determined by the local king and the immediate country, in line with the conventional goals of the overall world. Mark Smith writes that “the strongest predictors of people’s moral beliefs are not their religious commitments or lack thereof but rather when and where they were born.”18 The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses does not permit such factors to predominate. It is alarming to some non-Witnesses that religion might cause persons to stray so far from the familiar mindset.

 

“In the long run, religion is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them,” Smith further states.19 The Governing Body does not permit politics or culture to play that trump card among its members. They take a lot of criticism for it. When the herd turns, and they refuse to turn with it, some bruising is inevitable. Often, it will come as charges about controlling people, and can even escalate to charges of totalitarianism. 

Smith’s book charts five contentious issues in America’s history: slavery, divorce, homosexuality, abortion, and women’s rights. In each instance he shows how religious leaders have allowed their churches to be molded by changing cultural perceptions, not necessarily immediately, but inevitably. Modern church members have more in common morally and politically with contemporary atheists than they do with their own church counterparts of long ago, he observes.

They reinterpret the Bible when they have to, so as to stay relevant, just as the Russian judge reinterpreted the constitution when he had to. A reviewer of the book declares it “ultimately hopeful” that churches so accommodate present trends. He has in mind secular considerations leading religious ones, not the other way around. It is a reassuring message that he brings to those who would mold politics/culture, and even the anti-cultists, that they need not worry overmuch. Religion may drag its feet a bit, but it will ultimately come around to follow prevailing opinion. However, the Governing Body quotes a line from the book: “Christian leaders have regularly revised their teachings to match the beliefs and opinions gaining support among their members and in the larger society,”20 and says: ‘It doesn’t happen here.’ The heartened book reviewer is displeased about it, formers of politics/culture are displeased, and a worrisome new target presents itself for the anti-cultists. The interests of those who would strive to live by Bible principles are served, however.

The Governing Body doesn’t ‘reinterpret’ anything. Or rather, they do, but it is only in cases where former teachings are seen to stem from influences more cultural than biblical. As an example of the former: the scriptural arrangement of headship is now appreciated purely as a spiritual one and need not dictate matters practical. Should stereotypical roles be reversed with the husband at home with the children, and the wife at work, it raises no red flags. In the Witnesses’ branch organizations, it is routine for women to exercise authority over men in various areas of workplace expertise.

There is one more circumstance in which the Governing Body actually reinterprets quite a bit, but not the matters that Mark Smith writes of. They do not reinterpret matters of morality clearly defined in Scripture. However, they lay no claim to being inspired or infallible, but only to taking the lead in the Christian work. “The Governing Body is neither inspired nor infallible. Therefore, it can err in doctrinal matters or in organizational direction,” they have written. Who is not disarmed by such frank statements?21

There is no finer way to get some grousers going than to say: “Oh, we changed that.” Hostile people scour past Watchtower publications and discover positions that have altered, and pounce over the ‘flip-flop.’ It is not a piece of cake looking into the future. Everyone knows that. So if you miss the mark, you back up and tackle the subject anew. The Witness organization does it all the time. For decades, Watchtower publications have spoken of ‘tacking’ and the ‘light getting brighter.’ What is that if not an admission that they have often been wrong? They are very open about it, so when detractors complain about teachings that have changed, they look pretty silly if they harp on it. It has never been said that they didn’t.22

The present explanation is always a tentative explanation, the best out there. If it proves insufficient, they will in time re-examine and present things afresh. They ‘tack’ in ‘ever brightening light’ routinely. They will no doubt continue to do it as the situation warrants. They make no secret about it. Nor is anyone required to shout from the rooftops any current interpretation. Witnesses trust headship as they would trust the airplane pilot and take for granted he is handling the turbulence as best as can be expected. They don’t expect the cockpit door to swing open and the pilot shout: “Hey, anybody here know how to fly this thing?” Though the flight attendants may retreat with their refreshment carts of coffee and juice, passengers fasten their seatbelts as advised to ride out the rough patch without undue concern. They don’t reach for the flotation seat cover. They know that if God is worth his salt, he can provide capable human leadership. They know they haven’t signed on to a democracy.

That other point the Governing Body just clarified? You may have pondered that point some time ago in your own private study of the Bible. And if this was the greater church world, you would have run out and started up your own sect over it. Instead, Witnesses wait on the human authority they are convinced God has provided. Sometimes that authority has been wrong in expectations. When they are, it is like misreading a bus schedule and is not the basic fabric of the faith. It is a disappointment, but it does not change anticipation of the bus’s arrival. This author goes way out on a limb with a flippancy unmatched to liken several missed date perceptions of the early 1900s to the time you missed the nail with the hammer, and in frustration, swung several times more, again missing each time. What can you do? It would be nice had it not happened, but it did. If one has to go back over a century to dig up dirt, there can’t be that much dirt to dig up. Nor do they do anti-types anymore—“this is an anti-type of that’—probably because too many have blown up in their faces. You get almost as much bang for the buck, with no downside, by saying “This reminds us of such and such.” Who is there that can come along later and say that it did not?

The things Jehovah’s Witnesses have reinterpreted, or even flip-flopped on, are all superfluous things. They are all trimmings on the tree, and not the tree itself. The essential doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses that distinguish them from any other religion have been solidly established for over 100 years: teachings that the Trinity is unscriptural, for example, and that the soul does not live on after death. These are the important points that one should focus on. No one else figured it out. Forerunners of today’s Governing Body did, constituting powerful evidence that they are indeed led by God’s spirit.

Among the basic tenets discerned 100 years ago is that human salvation is not the prime issue before all creation, but the vindication of God’s name and purposes is.23 It is a huge distinction between Jehovah’s Witnesses and the general world of churches. It is the approach of the latter who say that it is all about us: all about our own personal salvation and relationship with Jesus. It invariably makes one self-centered. Invariably it leads to emphasis on rights outstripping responsibilities.

 

If the Governing Body has made some mistakes, they nonetheless man up and move on. They are not the cat that Mark Twain wrote about: “A cat that sits on a hot stove will never sit on a hot stove again. Nor will it sit on a cold one, for they all look hot.” They take heart that similar blunders occur repeatedly in Scripture. In the first century the word went out among the congregations that the apostle John would not die until the Lord’s return. It took John himself to set the record straight. He didn’t bother doing so until nearing the end of his life. Perhaps he had thought it himself.24

The apostle Peter declares that: “The end of all things has drawn close.” When the established Jewish world effectively ends with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, that is not the end he had in mind. Nevertheless, he probably drops to his knees and thanks God that he was not among those at the Jerusalem Hyatt for celebrations just then. He doesn’t grumble about being misled by whomever that 70 CE was not the big one. It was big enough. When they tell him they were just tacking, he doesn’t complain about it.25

Apparently, God is okay with it all, all of the ‘tacking,’ all of the ‘light getting brighter.’ If he was upset, he would short-circuit JW.org so that it would read in English and Pig Latin only and not the 900 languages in which it does read. If there was a substitute somewhere that did all that the Witness’ organization does in furtherance of the good news, minus the missed hammer swings, the best course would be to go there. But there is not, and it becomes apparent that God puts up with people who miss even as he is trying to overhaul them into people who do it less often. ‘They’re all imperfect people,’ he says in effect, ‘they’ll just have to sort through their own blunders.’

There are many examples in the Bible of faithful ones doing or saying things that did not pan out. Take, for instance, King David, troubled that he was living in a palace, and God was not. He plans to remedy that disparity by constructing a huge temple. Nathan the prophet gives him the green light. “Whatever is in your heart, go and do, for the LORD is with you,” he says. But God tells the prophet to back off. He points out that he has wandered about with the Israelites for centuries, perfectly content with the tabernacle he himself directed be made. Did he ever say that he wanted a house more permanent? However, he does allow that one will be built in the future, only not by David—he is a warring king and the symbolism is not right. It will be built by his son, Solomon, who will preside over an unprecedented period of peace. David wasn’t going to build any house! Solomon was!26 Nathan was wrong! Was he a ‘false prophet?’ Did he carry on over being second-guessed by God? Did David complain about being misled? There is no record of it.

The closer to significant events, the more eager become the ‘prophets.’ “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” the apostles asked the resurrected Jesus. ‘No, I’m not. Mind you own business and carry on in the disciple-making work’ was, in essence, his answer.27

When they had asked him about it previously, for “they thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear instantly,” he told them a parable designed to show that it would yet be a while and that they should keep busy in his work while he is away: a certain man of noble birth was traveling to a distant land in order to secure kingly power and return. Before leaving, he gives his slaves funds and says they should put them to good use. Upon his return, he finds that the first two slaves have done business and have doubled his money. The third slave has sat idle. “Lord, here is your gold coin that I kept hidden away in a cloth,” the fellow explains. “You see, I was in fear of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit and you reap what you did not sow.”28

What is he saying to the Lord but: “You want disciples? Get off your rear end and make them yourself!” The attitude of the ‘wicked slave’ finds a counterpart in some opponents in modern times who balked at the prospect of preaching to the general public, preferring the more comfortable model of preaching to the congregation—never mind if that is the biblical pattern or not. The ‘winners’ among them reintegrate back into the greater world and resume life. The ‘losers’ among them mask their reason with complaints about direction and governance in the congregation and attempt to undermine the work of those who have stayed the course.

In answering the ‘wicked’ slave, the master does not deny that he reaps where he does not sow. He even lets stand the slave’s perception that he was thereby ‘harsh.’ Furthermore, he even indicates that he could have worked with such a flawed attitude. Had the slave deposited the money in the bank, a one-time trip, so as to start the ball rolling accruing interest, the master could have worked with it. He may not have jumped for joy, but he would not have delivered the rebuke he did. The parallel account in the 25th chapter of Matthew shows the ‘wicked’ slave digging in the ground, working up a sweat, to bury the master’s money and thus thwart any possibility of his interests benefiting. How can this not correspond to former adherents actively opposing what they once espoused?

Not all members of the faith are zealous in the ministry, though zeal is ever encouraged. Those who refuse are not the same as those who decline to do it. The latter do not deny the ministry; they simply feel, for whatever reason, that they are not up to it. The former turn against it. The latter agree with Jesus that if you have good news, you do not just sit on it; you put your lamp on the lampstand. The public ministry grounds a person. Stray from it at your personal spiritual peril. To the extent possible, members of the Governing Body engage in the house to house work just like everyone else.

The other action of the ‘wicked slave’ is to beat his fellow slaves when the master is delaying. Says Matthew: “But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is long delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eat and drink with drunkards, the servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”29 Molasses hardly delays more than the Master does these days, in the eyes of some grousers, the ‘wicked slave’ counterparts, and they take out their frustrations in attacking those taking the lead, with charges of totalitarianism and mind control.

 

The Governing Body has framed witnessing about the kingdom as natural an activity as the sunrise and sunset, to Witnesses and non-Witnesses alike. They have made it a third inevitability that must be acquiesced to. There is death, there is taxes, and there is Jehovah’s Witnesses. The message is presented tactfully (ideally). It is augmented these days by methods less ‘in-your-face’ than house-to-house visits: via Internet and public displays of Bible literature staffed by Witnesses ready, but not insisting, to explain the contents.

It is no small feat to position kingdom preaching this way, for the message is not popular among humanists who would have us believe society ever moves onward and upward. It is not popular among religionists, for it overturns many a cherished teaching. It is not even popular always with the Witnesses themselves. They see the need for it, and have signed on to the program, but the desire to preach can be tempered by fear of man, leading one to yield to the implicit conviction of many that religion is just not something one speaks of openly—that it is a personal matter as delicate as explaining the facts of life to a child. The Governing Body at times experienced some pushback from those who wanted the faith but also a ‘normal life.’ ‘How can one lead a normal life in an abnormal world?’ was their answer. They have largely won that battle. They have held the course. They have furthered the course with ministry expansion worldwide. They are aided by daily news events clearly demonstrating that they are correct in describing the world as ‘abnormal.’

Just how God influences this small group is unlikely to ever be clear. The topic is not off limits, but one can only go so far in explaining how it works. Most likely they don’t know themselves. They are the imperfect vessels molded by the perfect potter. We don’t have to know everything. In fact, we cannot, for here we are peering into the divine/human interface. “The Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings,” says Romans.30 Just try demanding that it enunciate properly. “Just as you do not know how the life breath enters the human frame in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God,” says Solomon.31 Just try setting him straight on that point. This will be one of those areas in which we can glimpse the fringes of God’s ways and no more.32  

It is better for one to focus on manifestations that it works, demonstrated by accomplishments replicated nowhere else. Only the rare passenger, or even driver, is called upon to explain the inner workings of his automobile. Few can. All they really have to know is how to ride in it, work a few controls, and suffer through the potholes it will occasionally hit. It is ever the fascination of persons to describe just how government works. Pundits pry and attempt to worm their way into the inner circle, and usually get it wrong; at best they get a glimpse. If that is true with human things, how much more so with spiritual things? God has never signed a disclosure agreement.

In some respects, the closer one gets to the ‘inside’ of theocratic things, the more challenge it is perceiving God’s direction. Rank and file Witnesses will marvel at how God has supplied just the right understanding at just the right time. “Yeah, it’s only because so-and-so is too stubborn to…” the jaded insider will say. This is how God ‘works in mysterious ways’—the phrase is an escape clause reserved for when religionists must extract themselves from the corner their own doctrines have painted them into. In the case of how God directs humans, however, it is spot-on. We are not going to know it. The critical thinkers are checked. Some of them will overturn the entire chessboard on that account and stomp home.

God does use a human organization; this much is evident if only by its accomplishments and unity. He uses imperfect humans who have differences and opinions, and somehow hammers out leadership from them. To suggest otherwise is to suggest the Witnesses’ critics are right: that Jehovah’s Witnesses are brain-washed zombies. No, they are regular people, with differences even at the top and yet somehow God makes it all work. In some strange way that probably they themselves are not aware of, God works through this assembly as they read and meditate upon his written word and as they meet together to discuss it. Things gradually dawn upon them. They have a bevy of helpers, no doubt, to draw upon, but in the end, God works through them.

Can those ‘helpers’ be identified, particularly if they are acknowledged experts in this matter or that—say, in ancient history upon which any explanation of prophesy must rest? Doubtless there are some who would love to be a fly on the wall at the weekly meetings of the Governing Body. It is unlikely they will be permitted to be. Likely those participants savor the feeling of letting God’s spirit direct them wherever it will. But as soon as someone pins them down with this or that name of a recognized expert, that freedom is compromised. They know that expert will henceforth be monitored to get the inside scoop about how things that are spirit work in a human way. Anointed ones are unlikely to discuss it with John Q. Publisher, especially since the ability to keep a confidence is such a rare commodity these days.

This writer has chosen the role of an apologist. I’ll defend what they do. I’ll brace myself for the inevitable charges of being a ‘lapdog.’ My support doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge some things might be done differently or that they cannot make mistakes—they have acknowledged that themselves. It simply is not my role to push for changes. If they decide to do things differently, I'll spin positively that new policy too. It’s the part I have chosen.

The Western model of journalism is that of ‘exposing’ errors that it assumes no responsibility to fix, nor any responsibility to deal with the consequences of stirring up discontent among persons not previously disposed to be discontent. There is no biblical precedent for it and much biblical precedent that would argue against it. This ultimate issue is: What does one prefer—‘leadership by the people’ or being ‘taught by the LORD?’33  

Do the Governing Body arbitrarily decide things without input from ‘the people?’ That can hardly be said. Each week every circuit overseer in the world sends in a report from the congregation he has served. A cynic would say that they are ‘yes men,’ and admittedly, all are loyal to the cause, but it is hardly a given that an organization must send out its agitators to represent it. The circuit overseers, especially the more experienced ones, can be trusted to give input about whatever is affecting the congregations. In this manner, it is ‘taught by the LORD’ and not ‘leadership of the people,’ since the latter does not always lead to fine ends. It is largely an article of faith in today’s world that it does, but a perusal of history reveals that it only occasionally does.

The Governing Body has its hands full coping, and they are overall doing well in catering to God and not just the individual. I won’t tell them where they are going wrong. How would I know? For every line of intelligence I have, they have fifty. Unlimited free speech is a Western concept, not a biblical one. The Bible speaks of ones whose mouths it is necessary to silence, others who should be told not to teach what is false, and others who ought to be rejected after a warning or two for insisting upon having their own way. Many are those who want “to be teachers of the law, but without understanding either what they are saying or what they assert with such assurance.” I’ll try not to be one of them.34

The Governing Body plunks along, deferring to what the Scriptures say, I am convinced. They go wherever the Bible indicates to them that they should go. If it gets them in a jam with some component of the present world, they are content that God will somehow get them out of it. They are like the leaders of the first century who were loath to abandon teaching of the word so as to wait on tables.35 That’s what helpers are for. Here and there they shoot themselves in the foot. As low-key as possible, they extract the bullet with a grimace at their own mistake and carry on. They will refine and shift and ultimately something will come down through congregation channels and I will say: “Yep, it must work, or there would not be the 900 languages.”  

The application of Bible principles is always a qualification of authorship for Watchtower paper or digital publications. Some recognized scholar of the greater world might submit a guest article on nearly any outlet, but it will not happen on JW.org. One must apply Christian principles in order to have a voice. They may or may not in the scholastic world, but in that of the Governing Body, they do. Doubtless they miss out on some scholarship through such insistence, but they also safeguard themselves from much error, as it is not uncommon for yesterday’s scholarship to become today’s trash.

Granted that the ship may not always turn on a dime in secular waters. It takes a while to establish that something really is something and not just the tossing of flotsam on the waves and the trickery of men. On the Internet there are many who would tell the Governing Body what to do. It is the Internet and people can do what they want. But such correction by the people, though popular today, is not the Bible pattern. When David truly was being a scoundrel, and really did need correction, it was not the people who called him on it, but an already established prophetic channel.

Leadership by apology is in vogue today. Should the Governing Body apologize for any wrong interpretations they ever offered up? Apostates demand it, though one gets the sense their motivation is primarily to make their former associates squirm. How much and how often leadership should apologize is a matter of style. Suffice it to say that among determined opponents anywhere, an apology only stimulates demands for more apologies, and the more apologies never lead to forgiveness, but only demands for resignation. The technique is employed everywhere, not just, or even primarily, in religion. But when it happens in religion, it plays into the greater goal of halting the preaching of the gospel worldwide.

The worldwide disrespect of authority of any kind is shocking to behold for someone raised just two generations prior. It is people in ecstasy to tear down with nary a care over the rebuild. ‘The people flounder where there is no wise direction,’ says the scripture, yet the anthem of today is the words of the second Psalm: ‘Let us cast their chains from among us!’ Witnesses don’t go there. It is enough to occasionally admit to blunders, such as was done with overemphasis on a 1975 date and cover the rest with tacking and lights getting brighter.36 Everyone knows that humans are imperfect and make mistakes. What is important is to conduct oneself with humility and to ‘pour oneself out’ in God’s service. This the Governing Body has done.

Prominent ones in Bible times were wrong about many things, yet I cannot recall one of them apologizing, other than Paul for insulting the high priest who had slapped him. When he learned it was not a common thug, but the high priest of God, he apologized. It is the only example that comes to mind.37 Honest-hearted persons do not demand apologies. Persons not honest-hearted are not satisfied with them.  What! When Jesus says his followers would be hated by all the nations, it is because of missteps of the Governing Body? Jesus would be wrong, and the whole world would love Christians today were it not for the miscues of clumsy ones?38

The Governing Body has assumed an almost impossible task: that of representing Christianity before a hostile world. It is made impossible once more by representing authority in a world that despises authority. Governing Body members strive to be ‘infants as to evil.’ They distrust the greater world’s higher education. They think of Paul who considers it ‘so much rubbish.’ Having little of it, they find it hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, and so are apt to say it is all chaff. That’s what they have helpers for: to figure out the separation. Unfortunately, the helpers may not be up to speed either. Ah, well—their world works and the one based upon human wisdom does not. They don’t lose too much sleep over their lack. “The spiritual person can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone,” they cite the verse. One can worry too much.39

If a platform can be built upon, surely that argues in its favor. If it cannot be, surely that argues against it. Much of contemporary life is predicated upon lofty ideas that fail when implemented. Strangely, that failure does little to cool the ardor of true believers. The platform of the Governing Body does not fail, because it is based upon the Bible’s pattern, not their own, which they maintain is of God. Bible teachings implemented have enabled diverse persons to cooperate and build a structure for advancement of the good news that is unparalleled. One is reminded of the scriptural admonition to ‘taste and see.’ One cannot prove something tastes good. One has to taste to find out.40

Much Bible education laid out for Witness consumption is laid on with a trowel—the Governing Body is not subtle. Let the Witness be warned by Jesus words: “Every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”41 It will not be just the new. It will also be significant repetition of the old. No matter. It is a battle for hearts and minds being waged. Does the Devil state his point once and then discreetly retire? No. He will be like the computer app that notices you checking out vacation cruise prices and thereafter drowns you relentlessly in ads until you crack open that wallet and book a few trips. It is not easy instructing a group, for one person will barely notice that which has pummeled his neighbor into the ground. Let them err on the side of clarity if they are to err. Pummel them all if they must. It is their role to coordinate the chorus of Ephesians 4:11-16:

“And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love.”

Are they ‘authoritarian’ as has been charged? They do no more than reflect the sentiments of Jesus, who said the road to life would be constricted and narrow. Do they emphasize obedience? They do no more than reaffirm Paul, who even added ‘submissive’ to the list. They do no more than advocate the wisdom from above that James speaks of, which is ‘compliant.’ They don’t want to find themselves in Lot’s shoes, giving direction at a crucial moment only to find that his sons-in-law think he is pulling their leg. Leave them be to operate. Everyone knows a back-seat driver is obnoxious, especially when he tries to grab the wheel.  Critics groused about leadership all during Moses time, too, even trying to redirect the bus back to Egypt.42

Are they ‘controlling?’ From the world’s point of view, that of ‘anything goes,’ they are. But if you weigh their policies against commentary of freedom of speech and independent thought found in the scriptures, they are easily within the ballpark. A person who represents them in some capacity, say as an elder or pioneer, will find it necessary to become ‘an example’ of the faith, and reign in some personal freedoms that the rank-and-file need not do. The former can lose privileges by flying in the face of counsel as to what is locally acceptable or has been published. It is that way in any organization. “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”43

Jehovah’s people are not belligerent or headstrong and are not inclined to blow off counsel or a certain peer pressure as nothing. They are inclined to heed the “wisdom from above,” which is “compliant.” Elders are not control freaks or micro-managers. It is never a matter of petty rules enforced by people who just like to meddle. Anyone who carries on like that jeopardizes his reputation as a ‘reasonable’ person—one of the criteria for serving as an older man. Continual training serves to refine and improve elders, who are people, after all, with all of the baggage that people carry.44  

 

Nobody has any problem with God. It is always with his human representatives. This was true with Moses, as has been seen. It was true even with Judas. He and God were tight. But Jesus looked pretty human to him, not at all qualified to do what the Messiah was supposed to do. And those yokels he was attracting! It was just too much. Judas wanted refined people.

There are those approved in Revelation who keep following the Lamb “no matter where he goes,”45 In whose eyes? If it is only in their own—well, everybody does that. Everybody follows the Lamb per their own standards. The whole phrase becomes silly and should be replaced with: “each one did what was right in his own eyes,” because that is what it will inevitably default to. In the absence of human authority, if the counsel or method seems not attractive, you simply interpret it away. No harm done.

The very basis of the Governing Body’s authority is challenged by some today with respect to their claims to represent Christ. Follow just Christ, the critics say, not some human agency. Practically speaking, just how does a faith wishing to stay relevant do that? It is possible to set the bar so low that anything can be claimed as a victory. Thus, one churchman acknowledged that his faith had made a great impact upon him but not the world. Was it a failure on that account? Not at all. Who is to say the world wouldn’t have been worse without it? It is rather like the ne’er-do-well parent responding to the complaints of his jailbird kids. Without his parenting that they have found fault with, why—maybe they would be doing life in prison and not just ten years.

Contemporary grumbling over humans brings to mind those who groused at the marked difference in both direction and style from Charles T. Russell to Joseph Rutherford to Nathan Knorr, successive Watchtower presidents leading up to establishment of the present arrangement of a Governing Body. They are fixated on men. If they are going to harp on this, they ought to follow through. Tell them to ignore Paul and focus only on what Jesus said. The good news enjoyed tremendous growth under Paul? Big deal. It has done the same under the direction of the Governing Body today, yet that makes no difference to their critics.

If we step outside the world of Bible-believing people, we find this is exactly how those of critical thought regard Paul. They essentially treat him as a person who founded a separate religion, reinterpreting the words and teachings of Jesus, linking them to Old Testament events that Jesus himself never specifically linked them to. It cannot be that God works through a group of men today? Don’t be so half-hearted. Extend the logic to Jesus and Paul. Take the Bible and rip out every book after John.

Remarks from the disgruntled often assume an ‘us versus them’ mentality: the boss class dictating to the worker class. The Governing Body doesn’t look at it that way. When they say: “Some brothers in the past thought such-and-such,” they mean themselves as much as any in the ranks. They do not draw a distinction between themselves and the rest of the brotherhood. Instead, it is the way of Matthew 23:8-10 with them: “But you, do not you be called Rabbi, for one is your Teacher, and all of you are brothers… Neither be called leaders, for your Leader is one, the Christ.” Members of the Governing Body do not view themselves as leaders, but as fellow brothers who are taking the lead. There is a difference. The leader is Christ.

While pursuing the pathway to become a Witness, nothing about the way God uses a human agency to direct his people is ever hidden. It is manifest from the start. It seems disingenuous to grouse about being misled, should anyone do it. Instead, some simply reassess matters over time. They decide the cost is too high, and the reason for paying it too nebulous or too far off. They depart because they were “not of our sort.” They decide that they like this present world after all, or at least do not dislike it enough to keep such distance.46

The exception already touched upon would be those raised in the faith. They never did see both sides. Or, rather, to the extent most of them did, it was both sides presented through the eyes of the theocratic organization, which hardly represents the other side as that side would represent itself. How to solve this? I don’t know. It may already be solved to the extent it can be. The reason Obi-wan does not want Luke to go over into the dark side is that he really thinks it is the dark side. He is not trying to control Luke. He is not trying to deprive him of anything. He is looking out for him. He truly believes the dark side is bad, and he doesn’t say: “Why don’t you go over there and roam around for a while so that you can make an informed choice?”

So it is with the Witnesses’ Governing Body. Charges that they try to control people are so juvenile, so adolescent, that they are hard to countenance. How could anybody think that way? No. They truly believe the theocratic side is good and the other side is, well—the dark side. Though that viewpoint is objectionable to some, it is exactly how the Bible presents matters. I don’t know how you get around it, or if you even want to, though it does result in the above dilemma.

Furthermore, if the Governing Body ever ‘misrepresents’ the non-Witness world, it is not because they are sinister. It is because they do not know it themselves. They take their own counsel, which is that of the Bible, and they do not go there. They are lowly people who have poured themselves out and who now find themselves in places that are high for them. There are places not just ‘high for them’—they are actually high. They do not puff themselves up over it. They trust in God and, like the kings of old were directed to do, they actually read the scriptures daily. They keep away from what is ‘falsely called knowledge’ and from the ‘empty philosophies that violate what is holy’ that ‘toss people about as though on the waves of the sea.’ They have lived their own lives with the lesson of Haggai ever foremost: clean will be contaminated by unclean, not the reverse, and so they do not go there. Because they do not go there, they know it only through the lens of Scripture.47

If the Bible says, in effect, that the ‘world will chew you up and spit you out,’ they assume that it does. If they find someone who says it in exactly those words, they eat it right up and broadcast it. And who is to say the words are untrue? Some get chewed up and spit out so promptly and decisively that no one would ever deny it, but with others? Who is to say the scriptures are wrong on that point? It may just take a longer time to get chewed up and spit out. Many senior citizens have encountered calamity, even contrived calamity, and have seen everything they had worked for drained away. Even the powerful are not immune as their strength and faculties wane.

The true freedom Christians have is the hope of everlasting life on earth, which no government or religionist can take away. They can make your life most uncomfortable but generally the tribulation is ‘momentary and light.’ Even in the worst-case scenario that it is not, it ends with one’s death, for they cannot touch one’s ‘soul,’ the true life.48 In contrast, what do the guards have from the Regional Convention video? If they are atheist guards they have three or four decades, after which is a permanent death that may not be dignified. Even the head officer threatening Sergei will fare no better.

It is a challenge piloting Christianity in an increasingly irreligious world in which the very notion of ruling on morality is spun as a negative, as a scheme to manipulate people. The world pushes hard for the viewpoint that, if you must have religion, make it bland and let it not interfere with serious things of life.

I do not know any Governing Body members, past or present, but I did once receive a personal letter from one. By odd coincidence, a personal friend has the same first and last name as one of that group. He entered Bethel around 1980 and there married. My wife and I sent him a card on his first wedding anniversary, and it was the Governing Body member who replied. He thanked us for our kind wishes, he related how he and his wife had been traveling, how they’d been to Australia for the District Convention, and then Africa—boy, he sure gets around for being just a year at Bethel, we thought. Funny that the wives’ names didn’t match. Ah, well—maybe someone has a nickname. How could we have known? Here was a Governing Body member taking time to respond to a card, writing a few chatty paragraphs to people he did not know, for fear he might hurt someone’s feelings. That says it all. These are not pretentious people.

From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia   (see also safe version)

Endnotes

  1. Michael Hart, The 100- A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons of History (New York: Citadel Press, 1992) 213-216
  2. Genesis 12:2, Isaiah 26:2, Mathew 21:43
  3. Acts 15: 6-21, Acts 16:4-5
  4. Isaiah 55:9
  5. Matthew 24:45-47:
  6. The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon - Diakonos, Strong’s Number: 1249, accessed March 28, 2018, http://biblehub.com/greek/1249.htm
  7. Hart, The 100, 215
  8. Isaiah 48:18
  9. Ezekiel 18:25
  10. 1 Corinthians 1:23-29
  11. 3 John 9-10
  12. Revelation 5:10
  13. Acts 15:26
  14. Mark 12:17
  15. Romans 13:4
  16. 1 Timothy 2:1-2
  17. 1 Timothy 2:3-4
  18. Mark A. Smith, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015) see jacket dust cover
  19. Ibid.
  20. “Who is Leading God’s People Today?” The Watchtower – study edition, February 1, 2017, 28
  21. Ibid., 26
  22. Proverbs 4:18
  23. God’s Kingdom Rules (Brooklyn, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2014) 45
  24. John 21:21
  25. 1 Peter 4:7
  26. 2 Samuel 7:2-13
  27. Acts 1:7
  28. Luke 19:11-21
  29. Matthew 24:49-51
  30. Romans 8:26
  31. Ecclesiastes 11:5
  32. Job 26:14
  33. Isaiah 54:13
  34. Titus 1:10, 1 Timothy 1:3-8, Titus 3:10
  35. Acts 6:2
  36. 1980 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1979) 30-31
  37. Acts 23:4
  38. Matthew 24:9
  39. 1 Corinthians 14:20, Philippians 3:8, 1 Corinthians 2:15
  40. Psalm 34:9
  41. Matthew 13:52
  42. Matthew 7:14, Hebrews 3:17, James 3:17, Genesis 19:14, Numbers 14:4
  43. Luke 12:48
  44. James 3:17
  45. Revelation 14:4
  46. 1 John 2:19
  47. 1 Timothy 6:20, Ephesians 4:14, Haggai 2:12
  48. Luke 12:4

 

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